Five Basic Strategies to Increase Patient Retention

September 11, 2014
Audrey Mclaughlin, RN

Don't take your patients or their business for granted. One of the best marketing strategies is to engage patients on a personal level.

It is often misunderstood by practices that getting patients to your door is the most challenging aspect of promotion. New patient acquisition can be an uphill battle without targeted, authentic marketing practices, but pushing a patient from a one-time-visit to becoming a raving fan of your practice involves much more effort.

With the changes in the medical market today, it is more important than ever to treat your patients well and really earn their business. You want your good patients to return and to suggest you to their friends and family when someone is in need of a brilliant and caring physician. This involves something that many practices have forgotten all together: customer service.

If you haven't been reading my posts for a while, I will let you in on a little secret. I am pretty passionate about customer service. It can so often be overlooked in healthcare, even in the name of "good medicine" or "getting paid."  I am also a fan of both of these, but they must coexist with phenomenal customer service for you to succeed.

This heightened level of service must begin with your marketing efforts and extend through the first phone call to check-in, practitioner interaction, check-out, payment, and follow-up. Here are a few strategies to improve patient retention:

1. Marketing. It is difficult to retain patients that you don't have. Put your best foot forward and ensure your marketing is authentic and useful, more than directly promotional. The goal should be to position yourself as a resource in the community, and to cultivate a community of raving fans around your practice. Remember, marketing is a service. The more patients you reach, the more people you have the opportunity to serve. Don't think it is important? When a person successfully searches online for a practice, it results in a phone call almost 70 percent of the time.

2. The telephone. When a patient calls to schedule an appointment, it is always best to have a real person (with a friendly tone and a smile) answer the phone. In some clinics, it may be necessary to have an automated phone system as back up, but a live person is best. The fastest way to send a patient back to Google is to make them leave a message and wait for a return call for something as simple as scheduling an appointment.

3. Check-in and waiting. Be sure to greet everyone arriving in your office with an open-ended question, such as "Hi, how may I help you?" Avoid directing them to "sign in and sit down" or "name?" Also, the receptionist should wait for the patient to respond fully before directing them to "hand over this" and "fill out that." Take the time to answer patient questions, so that they need to come to the reception desk as few times as possible.

4. Practitioner interaction. When patients are called back to the exam room, address them as Ms. or Mr. and their last name. Staff members should make eye contact. These personal touches can put patients at ease. Practitioners should seek to build rapport with the patient, try to optimize communication, and remember to be engaged and treat the whole patient - not just the ailment.

5. Follow-up. Following up with your patients after their visit is key. This allows you to assess how your patient is feeling and what they thought about your office. Reach out via phone roughly three days after a visit to see how the patient is feeling, ensure they were able to understand instructions, and fill needed prescriptions. You may also let them know to expect a follow-up e-mail in which you can ask how your office did overall.

The key to retaining patients after you have captured their attention is to start recognizing that your patients are consumers with choices. Once you can fully understand and appreciate that, you can watch your retention rate climb.