Patient retention is key to any medical practice. Focusing only on gaining new patients means failing to nurture existing patients. This can hinder your efforts to build your practice and harm your reputation. And a good reputation is key to gaining new patients.
An effective approach starts with analyzing why people seek other providers.
Why do patients leave a practice?
A study of 600 physicians and 3,000 patients by the Altarum Institute Center for Consumer Choice in Health Care suggests that the reasons physicians believe patients leave is not aligned with the reasons patients reported leaving.
According to the study:
The top two reasons providers thought patients left a medical practice were:
- Patient moved
- Insurance no longer accepted
While the top two reasons patients reported leaving a practice were in search of:
- Better service
- Better treatment
Changing providers can have a negative impact on patient health
Not only is it better for the provider to have returning patients, it’s also ideal for patients to stick with one provider. Patients who opt for another doctor can suffer negative consequences of disrupted care as a result of the switch.
The good news is there are simple ways to improve how patients view your service and treatment, which builds confidence in your practice.
Here’s how you can you give your patients the treatment and service they are looking for.
Treatment is the main reason patients come to you in the first place, and their perception of the treatment quality is vital.
Traditionally, medical providers focus on these areas to improve care:
- Staff training and knowledgeability of care
- Technology including medical equipment and software
- Variety of Treatment Options available
These certainly shouldn’t be overlooked, however, these are not the only factors influencing a patient perception of treatment quality.
These areas also make a big impact on how patients feel about their treatment:
- Amount of time the doctor spends with the patient
- Patient’s understanding of care and treatment
- Patient involvement in decisions about their health
Next, we will address each of these areas in more detail and talk about what can be done to ensure your patients are satisfied with their treatment.
Amount of time spent with patients
This can be a tricky one, after all, there are only so many hours in the day and you likely have a set amount of time available for each patient.
Here are some of the ways you can combat negative perceptions in this area without compromising your schedule:
- Keep an unrushed demeanor during the time you do have with your patients
- Have a physicians assistant answer any questions the patient has before seeing the doctor
- Encourage patients to call with any questions they may have later on
- Prevent long wait times. Patients who wait longer may expect more time with the doctor
Patient understanding of treatment
A patient’s understanding of his or her care is vital not only for their health but also for a positive perception of treatment.
You can help your patients understand their care using the following techniques:
- Ask the patient open-ended questions to encourage them to describe in their own words what you have discussed so that you can check for understanding
- Address questions and concerns thoughtfully, then check with the patient to be sure your response makes sense to them and fully addresses their concern
- Provide educational materials to patients about their treatment such as pamphlets or online resources
Patient involvement in decisions about their health
Patients look to you for guidance, but ultimately want to make their own choices about their health.
You can help patients to be actively involved in their care by:
- Encouraging feedback both during and after the office visit.
- Providing Patient Decision Aids such as this Online Tool To Help Patients Decide Whether To Be Screened For Lung Cancer.
- Motivational Interviewing is a well-researched set of principles that can help healthcare providers to avoid taking a paternalistic role with their patients. These simple but powerful techniques foster a collaborative partnership with patients to keep them engaged.
- Using Reflective Listening And Asking Open-Ended Questions will help build trust and collaboration between you and your patients
Empowering your patients to play an active part in their health care can result in positive outcomes in addition to increasing the positive perception of treatment quality, such as
- Fewer missed appointments
- Higher patient interest in prevention
- Stricter adherence to treatment plans
Patient perception of service can be influenced by a lot of factors including:
- Staff attitude
- Convenience of scheduling
- Wait times
- Extra effort to make a patient feel valued
Next, we will take a closer look at these and discuss how to improve patient perception of each.
Every staff member has an impact on how patients will perceive your practice. Patients who view the staff as “nice” will be more likely to come back.
You can foster a genuine and kind staff by:
- Empathy training. This may be the most important item in this article. Empathy shows patients you understand, respect, and care about how they feel. A lack of empathy by any staff member can cause patients to turn around and never look back.
- Keeping your staff happy. Find out what your staff really wants, from insurance, to pay, to time off and lunch breaks, a happy staff tends to have a good attitude.
Convenience of scheduling
Making scheduling an easy task can make a world of difference to both existing and new patients. It’s equally important to make sure appointments are available within a reasonable time. Easier said than done it seems.
Since 2014, the average wait time has increased by 30%. Today the average wait to schedule an appointment is 24 days.
Having appointment times available sooner means a higher likelihood a patient will not only schedule with you but also a better chance of the patient showing up to the appointment, therefore reducing the number of no-shows.
You can help facilitate convenient scheduling by:
- Using an Online Scheduling System
- Scheduling follow-ups before the patient leaves the office
- Implementing a wait list so you can contact patients who have requested an earlier appointment as soon as one becomes available
- Using ZocDoc to help fill last-minute time slots
- Offer walk-in times
- Offer extended hours or weekend appointments to accommodate patients who work during the week
Effective scheduling also means reducing the number of no-shows. Sending out email and SMS appointment reminders can help ensure that you aren’t left with missed appointments.
Reducing wait times
Reducing waiting room times shows patients that your practice respects their schedule and value their time.
You can keep patients from spending too much time the waiting room by:
- Gathering patient information early. This could be through online forms, or from the referring physician.
- Eliminate excess paperwork. Avoid redundancies in paperwork, especially if a patient has been to your practice before.
- Maintain a late or no-show policy and keep track of repeat offenders.
- Use a Mobile Queue App. Applications like Qless give projected wait times and allow patients to let your staff know if they’re running late. Patients can join a virtual waiting room from their phone that lets them know when their turn is coming up so they can wait in a coffee shop or stop for gas on the way.
- Remind patients to arrive early to fill out paperwork. If they don’t know they need 20 minutes to fill out paperwork, things will end up running behind.
Extra effort to make a patient feel valued
Integrating thoughtful touches may seem tedious, but it turns out it’s the little things that make a big difference.
Let your patients know you care by:
- Keep in touch with your patients, for example by mailing birthday or holiday cards. Not only does keeping in touch with your patients show them that you care, it can also help remind them to take care of their health, which could mean coming in for a follow-up.
- Make Your Waiting Room Hospitable And Having Small Conveniences Available. Ample seating, appealing decor, beverages, and a variety of reading material can keep people happy, even if they have to wait a few minutes.
Many times it’s the little things that people remember. To keep patients happy, don’t overlook the details.
These strategies will increase patient satisfaction and lead to a higher retention rate
These patient retention strategies require some thought, investment, and training up front but can quickly become an automatic part of your daily routine. Not only will they help you with patient retention, and reputation, but they also help to foster a positive workplace culture.