A lot of energy goes into attracting new patients to your practice, but getting them into your office is only half the battle. Patient loyalty is a now bigger issue that ever. A recent study at Johns Hopkins found that 23 percent of patients see three or more primary-care physicians in a 24-month period. The resulting lack of continuity in care is bad for patients and bad for business. Thomas H. Lee, MD, chief medical officer for healthcare management consulting firm Press Ganney, noted that "the most important predictor of patient loyalty is a patient’s confidence in their provider."
So how do you hang on to your patients and inspire a level of trust and confidence? Here are five ways to keep them coming back.
1. Stay on top of appointment times
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Your days are unpredictable and things don’t always go as planned. Meeting challenges as they arrive and giving each patient the care they need means that sometimes, you will fall behind. Waiting for an appointment is a fact of life and most patients understand. However, there are things you can do to help alleviate unnecessary wait times. Medical Arts Press recommends offices put procedures in place for how specific situations will be handled and train staff to assess situations quickly and decide what needs to be done, depending on the issue. For instance, a computerized scheduling system which alerts your staff when you’re running behind schedule can allow them to call people and let them know. This courtesy has a positive impact, making patients feel considered and respected.
2. Find new ways to connect
Surveys consistently reveal that feeling their concerns are heard is a top patient priority. Fulfilling this need goes far beyond the exam room. Confidence in healthcare providers is a key factor in patient loyalty. Confidence comes with trust, and trust is only built in relationship. Look for ways to connect with your patients beyond the 15-minute appointment window. How easy is it for patients to contact you with questions or concerns? Social media is one answer, secure patient messaging systems are another. The more avenues you have to communicate with patients, the more you’ll ensure that they will stick around.
3. Keep in contact
Follow up is important. It helps patients feel cared for and it makes their lives easier. Appointment reminder cards and recall cards are easy ways to jog their memory. Some practices use text messaging to issue convenient reminders. A personal touch is much appreciated: Birthday and holiday cards serve a dual purpose by keeping your practice at the front of patients’ minds.
4. Remember that details matter
Dozens of little details add up to powerful patient impressions. Even minor changes can have a huge impact on people’s experience. Are the magazines in the waiting room current, and are there enough for everyone to have a choice? Is there a water cooler available? Is the music too loud? Patients leaving an appointment with multiple prescriptions, educational material, and samples would appreciate a way to keep everything together: custom plastic bags can make life easier, while offering another opportunity for branding. Stickers and prizes for the littlest patients are always treasured far beyond their actual value. Thoughtful touches like these don’t just ensure that your patients have a pleasant experience, they send a strong message that you care.
5. Involve your whole staff
The quality of a patient’s experience at your practice begins the first time they pick up the phone to make an appointment. A friendly, caring, concerned "bedside manner" must be consistent throughout the practice, from your all patient-facing staff. Be clear about your goals for customer service and communicating with patients. Kindness, respect, and discretion must be a maintained at all times. Rude or brusque service might be brushed off at the grocery store, but the intimate nature of healthcare means that slights strike much deeper and are harder to forget.
Every practice is a work in progress. Time and resources are always tight, but patient satisfaction is one area where investment is always worth it. Taking steps to ensure that your patients have a good experience each time they interact with your practice not only ensures that they will return, it also means that they will recommend you to others.
Amanda Gareis is a freelance writer for Medical Arts Press, a provider of office supplies, filing supplies, postcards, furniture, and more for medical practices.