This week, I’m leaving my doctor’s office. I see a friendly, highly experienced nurse practitioner at my primary care physician’s office, and I trust her expertise. But I simply cannot put up with the lack of communication and scheduling issues I’ve dealt with at the office for any longer.
I’m sure patient loyalty is important to my doctor (although I’ve never even seen him), the nurse practitioner, and their team. But after weeks of leaving messages and getting put on hold, they haven’t proven that I’m a valuable patient. I’m walking away, and your patients can too—if you don’t make patient loyalty your top priority.
Truthfully, it’s tough to maintain brand loyalty in any industry in 2018. Marketers bombard consumers with advertisements for the latest and greatest products and services, and patients are way more informed about their options. New technologies and smartphone apps have changed our expectations across the board.
But while other industries constantly adjust strategies and technologies to retain consumers, healthcare has been slow to keep up. Long wait times are incredibly common, and too many practices and hospitals have not adjusted their processes for decades.
Keep in mind that just because patients keep coming back to your care, it doesn’t mean they are particularly loyal. In some cases, patients end up coming back to your practice or organization simply because their health insurance limits their options.
You should be prepared for the possibility that patients are tied to your practice but could leave at any time. As healthcare catches up to this retail consumer mentality, a few savvy healthcare marketers can catch your current patients when they have one foot out the door and they’re ready to make the switch.
My coworkers have made some amazing recommendations for primary care in my area. Their doctors’ offices go above and beyond to ensure patients have what they need and want. And it turns out that what most patients want isn’t actually unreasonable.
Improving patient loyalty should be a number one priority for you and your team. But it takes more than an impressive resume to keep modern patients around. Here’s how you can work to solidify your patient database.
Think about each step a patient must take to schedule an appointment at your office. If you were a busy working mother or father, would you feel your time was valuable?
Listen to patient phone calls, or try calling the front desk yourself. Can existing patients quickly find time to meet with the doctor? Can your staff truly accommodate their needs? Is calling the office a difficult task—resulting in long hold times or drawn-out conversations that go nowhere?
It’s easy to assume we know what the modern patient wants and needs. But it’s much better to challenge those assumptions and find out what patients really want.
It’s not too difficult to do: send out surveys to current patients about their experiences in the office, perhaps as an email right after they leave. Larger organizations can consult patient advisory groups as well—what’s most important is to remain open to the feedback you hear.
We all know that technology has changed drastically in the past 20 years. But it’s changed nearly as much in just these last few. If you’re still using scheduling systems from 5 (or even just a couple) years ago, it may be time for an update.
And technology is only part of the issue. My team works with many practices and hospitals that have long, complicated patient scheduling and intake processes—when many of the steps are largely unnecessary. Again, put yourself in a patient’s shoes, and find out which processes are simply adding to wait times and bad experiences.
Do your research—there are so many new technologies available not just for doctors and nurses, but for the front desk too. And while some big investments in health technologies certainly impress the patients, even small changes (like adding the Spruce app as a means of patient communications) inspires confidence and patient loyalty.
Finally, check in with your patients from time to time. This responsibility used to fall solely on the patient’s shoulders. But today’s patients are busy and a bit distracted; it’s easy to lose them if a competitor’s advertisement catches their eye at just the right time. (I’m on the lookout right now.)
Ask how your patients are doing, if they need anything, and when they’d like to schedule their next appointment. If anything, this could be enough to remind a patient on the verge of jumping ship (like me) to give your practice another shot.