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5 Reasons Your Practice Is Losing Patients

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Man with an impatient expression sitting down in waiting roomIt costs your hospital or practice about 5 times more to obtain a new patient than to keep an existing patient within your database. That’s why patient retention matters–the overall loss of a patient’s lifetime value is not something you want to give up.

So if you’re losing patients, you might be...well...losing patience. The good news is there's something you can do to fight the trend. However, you must be willing and able to audit your current processes and find out what's turning patients away, and be honest about why they might be seeking help elsewhere.

1. These Common Front Office Blunders

Most practices, group practices, and even hospitals don’t realize how much money is lost at the front desk. In our research, we've found that some practices have the potential to lose millions of dollars at the front desk. Some of this is thanks to the processes you may have (or not have) in place. But the bulk of the problem occurs when the front office staff is not properly trained in customer service.

Gone are the days when the front office staff were considered a primarily administrative part of our profession. In the modern days of patient experience, the front office experience is held to a higher standard. These mistakes, however, can get in the way:

  • Poor phone skills. If patients perceive your front desk staff as being rude, indifferent, or rushing through calls, they have the option to simply call someone else.
  • Long hold times. Putting someone on hold for 10 minutes is no longer acceptable practice. It's a reflection of how you treat patients in the office, and some people will simply hang up if a hold is unexpected.
  • Confusion or misinformation. There are some questions your front office staff simply cannot answer, whether due to doctor-patient confidentiality or because a question required medical advice. However, your front office should be able to redirect the question properly and make sure patients feel able to get the answers they need.
  • Billing issues or inefficiencies. If a patient is overcharged, for example, or given misinformation about insurance coverage, they have plenty of reason to go elsewhere.

2. High Wait Times

The average wait time for patients in hospitals and practices in the US is just over 20 minutes. That means many patients are waiting even longer than this—and that's a long time to go without anything happening to you (not to mention time spent waiting for testing, etc.). About 30% of patients say they have left a doctor's appointment because of a particularly long wait. 

Many practices in your area are actively taking steps to reduce wait times. Just read about this practice in Oregon that was able to reduce wait times to just over 2 minutes. Patients are getting fed up, and they will find somewhere else to go if you cannot address the problem and find ways to see patients sooner.

3. Poor Maintenance of Patient Relationships

Nurturing patient relationships is one of the easiest ways to ensure patient retention. You only need to ensure patients are able to recall your name when they need you.

You and your team should come up with an outreach strategy in order to show patients you care. That goes beyond simply sending out appointment reminders. The little gestures mean a lot, from calling to check up on how well a medication is working to asking whether a child is feeling better. Patients will remember that you took the time to ask.

A big part of maintaining a patient relationship also involves marketing. Build your brand through social media or use automated email campaigns to update previous patients so that they come back to your practice or hospital or recommend you to friends.

4. One Bad Patient Experience

One bad experience can ruin your chances of patient loyalty. There are some experiences you can't bounce back from if a patient resolves never to return to your office. However, you may be able to learn from those patient experiences to prevent this from happening in the future.

Think of a time you've had a bad experience that kept you from going back to a restaurant or retail store. Maybe you ranted about the experience to friends who had a similar complaint. Or maybe you went online to find that lots of people had left reviews of a similar nature. When patient retention is low, you may be able to attribute it to a shared experience driving people away from your practice or hospital.

Check your online reviews to find out what people are saying about your practice. Better yet, automate reviews so that you can easily review feedback and respond if need be. Part of marketing any healthcare organization means being willing to change your processes to keep up with what patients want.

5. No Plan in Place to Ensure Patient Retention - and to Replace Those Who Do Leave

All in all, if you have no plan in place for patient retention, you can expect to run into trouble at some point. This should be part of your overall marketing plan. You cannot expect your patient volume to stay the same forever, but with a marketing plan in place, you won't have to wait until your waiting room is empty before you do something about it.

Physicians ensure patient retention in their practices simply by being proactive. This means having a plan in place for staff training, process improvement, maintaining patient relationships, reviewing and responding to feedback, and much more.

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