The most successful medical practices will have a base of existing patients that are loyal to them. So, read on to learn six patient retention strategies
The backbone of any medical practice is its patients. While finding new patients is always worthwhile, the most successful practices will have a base of existing patients that are loyal to them. To build this base, it’s important to have an expert patient intake specialist and maintain effective patient retention strategies that allow you to build patient relationships and make them comfortable entrusting you with their care.
Of course, when it comes to answering the question of how to increase patient retention in healthcare, the answers will differ from what they may be in other industries. Patients are not simply customers; they are entrusting you with their health. But some strategies can help. This guide will go over 6 patient retention strategies that will improve your patient’s satisfaction and keep them returning for years to come.
1. Provide High-Quality Care
Any list of strategies for patient retention must necessarily start with a focus on the care you provide your patients. While this may seem like an obvious point, it can easily become lost among everything else that goes into your practice. Additionally, providing high-quality care is more than simply running the right tests and providing the right diagnosis.
You also need to focus on:
Pleasant demeanor – Running a healthcare practice can mean dealing with many different stressors. Administrative tasks, long hours, and difficult patients are just a few examples. However, while it’s understandable to become tired or frustrated, you need to be careful not to reflect that frustration when you’re with a patient. Each patient deserves your full attention and respect regardless of outside circumstances.
Honest interactions – Being pleasant and respectful should not be confused with sugar-coating difficult discussions. Talking to your patients honestly and setting realistic expectations shows them respect. It may be difficult to hear in the short-term but in the long-term patients will appreciate your candor.
Build relationships – Your patients are more than the information on their chart. While correct diagnosis and treatment should be a top priority, you can’t treat people like they are puzzles to be solved. By building real relationships with your patients, you will earn their trust and they will want to return to you for their future care.
2. Reduce Wait Times
While the doctor-patient interaction may be the most important part of your practice, it’s far from the only piece of the puzzle. Even patients who love their physicians can find themselves frustrated by the process of getting in to see them. In fact, in recent surveys, over 40% of patients admitted to feeling frustrated by wait times.
That frustration can lead to:
Poor reviews either online or in a patient survey
Not recommending the practice to friends or loved ones
Not returning to the practice themselves
Leaving their appointment before being seen
All of these can result in poor patient retention overall and can hurt your ability to find prospective patients as well. So, while eliminating wait times completely isn’t realistic, there are strategies you can implement to help reduce them significantly:
Utilize technology – Part of the problem can be dealt with before a patient’s appointment by simply communicating better. Sending the appointment reminder and being aware of any changes can help you better estimate the time needed for each visit. By utilizing technology like live chat or text reminders, you can be sure you and your patients are on the same page before their appointment.
Establish a late policy – Patients arriving late can completely throw off your schedule for the rest of the day. To combat this, you need to make and enforce a patient retention strategy to deal with late-arriving patients. There’s still room for compassion and a system that implements warnings is likely your best approach, but perennially late patients need to know that behavior won’t always mean they get to see their healthcare provider.
Better estimate visit times – Simply having a couple of standard estimated time windows for visits may not be sufficient. Some visits will be more complex. Some will be simpler. By being able to accurately estimate visit times, you can ensure that you keep to your schedule.
3. Improve Intake
Jumping off from the last point, better estimates can be a direct result of better intake practices. This goes for new patients and current patients alike. Being sure all the needed histories and forms are filled out ahead of time allows a patient’s visit to go faster and allows you to better anticipate the type of care they’ll need.
Nexa’s intake services are an example of how you can stream your intake process. By outsourcing to professionals used to collecting information and following up when needed, you can free your staff to focus on other day-to-day patient care issues while still collecting all the information you need so that you can keep running smoothly in the future.
4. Become Part of the Community
Building relationships with your patients can be hard if the only time they ever see you is during their healthcare visits. That is a generally uncomfortable time for most people and no matter how good your bedside manner is, they will associate you with the anxiety they feel during these visits.
One way to create better associations for you and your practice is by becoming a part of your local community. This allows you to interact with an existing and potential patient outside of the sterile environment of a clinic and will help them view you as more than just a healthcare provider. Some examples of how you can get into the community:
Community nutrition programs where you can partner with others to deliver food to the needy in your community.
Free or reduced-price care programs for underserved members of your community.
Programs to provide transportation to those in need.
Sponsorship of charity events for health-related causes.
These are just some examples. Each community will have different needs and you don’t need to limit yourself to specific health-related programs. The important thing is to get out so that your clinic becomes part of the fabric of your community.
5. Use Analytics
You can’t fix the problems that your practice is experiencing if you don’t know what those problems are. By setting certain key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can monitor, you give yourself objective analytical points that you can use to address issues as they arrive.
Some examples of potentially useful KPIs are:
Response time – This can relate to both new and current patients. When someone gets in touch with your office with a question, how long does it generally take before you get back to them? Maybe you answer all calls and respond immediately. Maybe it takes days or weeks. This will greatly affect how people think about your practice.
Wait time – Discussed earlier, this is the amount of time a patient has to wait beyond their appointment time before they’re seen. The longer the wait time, the less likely you will be able to retain patients.
Drop rate – You need to keep track of how many patients you lose so that you can see if the changes you make have any effect (or if you even need to make changes in the first place). Not all drops are your fault (people do move), but you need to be aware of the numbers so you can address any negative trends promptly.
Patient engagement – You shouldn’t just be monitoring yourself. You need to know what your patients respond to. Who prefers phone calls? Who prefers emails or texts? One of the ways of improving patient engagement is by knowing what people respond to, you can better serve them and better allocate your resources.
6. Pay Attention to (and Encourage) Patient Feedback
No one likes to feel like an annoyance. That instinct can lead us to never receive valuable information. While some patients may not want to be bothered with providing feedback (and that’s fine) many will jump at the chance, but you have to ask them first.
Remember, this isn’t the equivalent of a customer service survey you’re asked to fill out after setting up a new phone. People want their healthcare to be as good as it can be and if providing their opinion can help you improve, you may be surprised by how willing people will be to give it. That said, there are things to keep in mind when looking at patient feedback:
Sample size – While all feedback can be useful, one bad review does not make a trend. Only by collecting many data points can you start to see a real picture of how people see your practice.
Follow up – It’s tempting to run away from criticism. However, by reaching out to people who express frustration you show your commitment to improving and you may end up retaining patients who otherwise would be lost.
Don’t overreact – Not every issue requires a complete overhaul of how you run your practice. Our immediate emotional response will make us want to address every problem in a major way. Sit with the feedback; think it over; then decide how to proceed.
Improve Patient Retention with Nexa
Improving your patient retention requires a variety of strategies. Some of those can only be implemented by you and your staff. Others may be able to be addressed with some outside help.
At Nexa, we specialize in direct and effective communication. By partnering with us, you can ensure that your practice is reachable and responsive to your patients 24/7 with a professional medical answering service. We can help you with scheduling appointments and intake, and we can provide you with the live chat and text messaging service that will allow your patient relations to become omnichannel.
Your patients want their interactions with you to be easy and professional. At Nexa, we can help you achieve that goal.