Consumers today have high expectations when it comes to service. Companies such as Amazon, Netflix, and Google have thrived on providing consumers what they want, when they want it. As a result, we are living in an “on-demand” era that has increasingly infiltrated almost every industry, with healthcare being no exception. One may argue that medicine is hardly the same as ordering a video or a new set of bath towels online. However, the reality is that patients are consumers and they are living in an “on-demand” world. To gain their business and win their loyalty, healthcare organizations and practices must recognize this shift and implement strategies to improve access, convenience, and personalization.
The following are six best practices for building and maintaining patient loyalty:
1) First Impression’s Matter
The expression “You never get a second chance to make a first impression” holds true in healthcare. It only takes 7 seconds for a first impression to be made and typically it will not be made with the provider, but rather the office staff. This is why it is critical that on the phone or when the patient first arrives, the office and staff should be warm, welcoming, and friendly.
2) Convenience is Key
Convenience is paramount in healthcare today. According to a survey by Deloitte, it is one of the top priorities expressed by consumers with regards to their providers (2). Another review from Accenture found that 61% of patients would change providers just to get an appointment more quickly, and over half would switch to get an appointment at a more convenient location (1). The bottom line is that today’s patients want access when, where, and how it suits them, and it increasingly dictates their behaviors regarding healthcare. Consider ways to allow patients to schedule appointments, pay bills, request prescription refills, and access records online. If possible, consider offering same or next day appointments or extended hours to make care more convenient and accessible.
Personalized care is not only a top priority with seniors but also with millennials (2). Patients are seeking a partnership with their providers. They also want their provider to spend sufficient time with them, and not rush through exams. Personalized care does not necessarily require extra cost or more time. It is often just the simple human touch of making the patients feel like they’re valued, respected, and cared for.
Consumers are seeking greater transparency in their health care costs. Nearly 3 in 5 surveyed reported wanting providers to supply cost information (2). As healthcare costs continue to rise, patients are seeking more clear pricing and transparency.
5) Keep Wait Times Minimal
Average wait times for doctor’s appointments are 20 minutes but can be increasingly longer depending on the type of physician (5). In addition, it takes an average of 24 days to schedule a first-time appointment with a physician, according to The 2017 Survey of Physician Appointment Wait Times and Medicare and Medicaid Acceptance Rates (4). The bottom line is that patients don’t want to wait. One in five patients have switched providers when a wait time has become too long (3). The failure to recognize or implement strategies to improve long wait times could severely reduce a practice’s ability to attract, retain, and satisfy their patient base.
Many practices have found the use of secure messaging helpful in communicating with patients. Office staff can send patients email, text, or phone reminders regarding appointments. Consider using a patient portal so patients can complete paperwork, access updates, and submit insurance information from home, so they are ready when the physician is. It is also necessary to have a policy in place for no-shows and late arrivals. Regardless of how efficient a practice is, wait times will happen, so ensure your waiting room is comfortable with plenty of up-to-date reading materials. Providing free wifi or TV entertainment can also go a long way.
6) Follow up
One of the most important, yet often forgotten practices, is following up with the patients after they have left the building. Building patient trust and loyalty involves ongoing communication. It also helps improve the quality of care, increases patient satisfaction, and keeps patients coming back. There are many tools that can help practices stay in contact with their patients, through email, text, or social media.
Today’s healthcare providers have such an enormous amount on their plates, it remains a constant battle to find enough time. Those practices that are able to implement strategies focused on greater personalization, access, convenience, and quality care will ultimately win the consumer’s business. Finding the right balance can be challenging, but the real reward comes with building a strong physician-patient relationship and gaining their trust and loyalty.