5 Ways PCPs can retain patients (and attract new ones)

The traditional primary care model is changing. According to a study by the Advisory Board, one in five patients (for millennials, it’s one in two) uses an alternative site as their main source of primary care. Even more alarming, only 35% of respondents were confident they’d still use their primary care provider in a year. Add to that the emergence of retail clinics in pharmacies and big-box stores, like CVS and Walmart, and traditional primary care practices are feeling the pressure. To remain competitive, primary care physicians need to adapt to consumer preferences and industry trends.

Here are five things primary care physicians can do to earn their patients’ loyalty.

1. Be available.

When a patient is sick, they want to see a provider that day, if not immediately. According to the Advisory Board, the ability to walk in without an appointment and receive care within 30 minutes is twice as important to a patient than whether or not they see a doctor versus an advanced practice provider and five times more important than a short commute to the clinic. Some are even willing to pay more for same- or next-day appointments. The bottom line is if you want to keep patients and attract new ones, it’s imperative that you offer on-demand access and make yourself available to patients when they want to be seen.

2. Simplify the next steps.

Patients want their healthcare to be simple and convenient. Not only do they want digital simplifiers like online scheduling and lab results, but they also want a primary care facility that offers ancillary amenities like onsite X-rays, labs, and a pharmacy. Patients also want the clinic staff to coordinate any follow-up care needed, including scheduling appointments with specialists and sending health records.

3. Show that you care.

One of the biggest deal breakers for a patient is a physician and staff who aren’t friendly and dedicated to patient-focused care. In fact, it even outranked cost, travel time, and provider type as a customer preference in the Advisory Board study. They want a doctor who listens, is empathetic, and communicates clearly and effectively. Those qualities are also important when it comes to a clinic’s staff. You can accomplish this by creating a service culture at your facility. First, define what good customer service is and then make sure you and your staff execute on those service expectations.

4. Make APPs and team-based care part of your practice.

Although the Advisory Board study showed that patients prefer to see a doctor over an advanced practice provider (APP), that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to see one, especially when it comes to routine, non-acute care. By incorporating APPs as part of your patient load strategy, patients will be seen faster, meeting their need for on-demand access. In addition, patients (especially millennials and Gen Z) also see team-based care as a nice to have. Team-based care offers a variety of advantages, most importantly expanding the patient’s access to high-quality care.

5. Know your audience.

The pandemic has increased the use of virtual doctor visits, but that doesn’t necessarily mean patients prefer them. The Advisory Board study showed the most consumers (regardless of their age) didn’t view virtual care options as a critical component when choosing a primary care clinic. So, when incorporating telehealth into your primary care model, first understand your patient demographics and what their preference is before making it a big part of your care strategy.

With competition on the rise in the primary care market, making consumer preferences and trends a top priority will help your primary care practice remain successful.

Lisa Grabl is president of CHG Healthcare’s CompHealth locum tenens division, the nation’s largest provider of locum tenens physicians and founder of the traveling physician industry. She joined CompHealth in 2001 as a sales consultant and served in a variety of management roles prior to being named president in 2017. Lisa is passionate about building lasting relationships and helping her team members reach their highest potential.