How healthcare practices can resolve the common reasons behind patient attrition online and offline

Practices can mitigate attrition by investing in automated tools and implementing patient relations training.

A high-performing healthcare practice requires a loyal, reliable patient base to carry it through even the toughest of times. However, the pandemic has unleashed its own set of unique challenges. Patients are now more selective with where they seek care and have greater expectations from the providers they visit. Practices that fail to meet patients’ needs could face increased attrition in today’s competitive healthcare environment. PatientPop's 3rd annual Patient Perspective Survey found that 36% of patients left a healthcare provider in the previous two years.

Fortunately, a practice has the ability to manage and control many of the factors that trigger patient attrition. With the right tools and training, physicians can ensure positive experiences, improve retention, and fully realize the lifetime value of new and prospective patients.

Based on our survey, here are the primary reasons patients have left or switched doctors, and ways practices can address them.

Reason #1: Poor experience with a healthcare provider and staff

Impressions count when combating patient attrition, especially in your office. Our survey found that 8 out of 10 patients who decided to leave a healthcare practice said their decision was due to a negative in-person experience or lack of communication. Patients specifically singled out doctor-patient relationships and customer service issues.

Although patients were about a third less likely in 2021 than in 2020 to post a negative review about a provider’s demeanor, poor bedside manner remained the second-most listed reason behind negative online reviews. Patients also reported a 29% increase in staff-related issues, which ranked as the third-most-noted reason for submitting a negative patient review.

Physicians must be responsive to patient feedback when addressing these qualms. Tactically, doctors need to take the lead in directly responding tonegative online reviews or feedback via direct emails.

Of the patients surveyed who submitted complaints, one in three reported that their doctors responded instead of a practice staffer, representing a 61% increase over our 2020 survey results. While administrative staff may need to shepherd patient response protocols depending on the circumstances, doctors can help put forward a more tailored and personalized experience by maintaining some involvement.

With your staff on the front lines, you also need to implement strategies to manage staff stress and burnout. These have always been recurring issues in healthcare, but the pandemic has worsened them substantially. By implementing automated processes and programs that reduce staff workloads and intake bottlenecks, your practice can tighten up the patient intake process and allow staff to focus on other higher-value work. You should also consider training initiatives that help providers and staff improve their listening and patient relations skills. After all, 67.1% of patients prefer doctors who are good listeners; 49.7% are more partial to practices with welcoming staff.

Reason #2: Slow or No Response to Questions or Concerns

Growing staff burnout may also affect how healthcare employees respond to patient questions and appointment issues.These issues often arise when front-desk staff is overwhelmed with administrative tasks and physicians are preoccupied with administering care and securing proper documentation. If a practice lacks a uniform response procedure for patient inquiries, patient questions could fall through the cracks.

This issue can chip away at patient loyalty since 47% of patients consider the speed at which practices respond to questions as a component of a good (or poor) patient experience.

Practices can address this issue by implementing channels that enable staff and doctors to respond quickly to patient inquiries. Try incorporating a simple, automated text message exchange program that synchronizes with your practice system — in our research, 66% of patients said they prefer text reminders of upcoming medical appointments. Online scheduling tools can also allow your patients to book or request an appointment online, which 64% of patients prefer. These offerings can also help your practice capitalize on the 34.3% of patients who reserve appointment times after business hours.

You should also inform patients about their upcoming appointments and office policies ahead of time to mitigate the likelihood of last-minute cancellations and no-shows. No-shows and cancellations can be costly’, both in the short- and long-term: patients who miss one appointment are 70% more likely not to return within 18 months. Secure two-way text messaging systems are an efficient way to remind patients of upcoming appointment times and let them know what to expect upon arrival.

Reason #3: Long Wait Times for Appointments

Finally, we found patient satisfaction to be strongly defined by practice wait times. Our research specifically found that 60% of patients will feel frustrated, even before their exam, if their appointment wait times exceed 20 minutes. Practices that tackle this issue successfully can distinguish themselves from their competitors.

To help solve the problem, you can use many of the same tools that already automate and expedite the check-in process. Try leveraging a HIPAA-compliant text messaging program, for example, to allow patients to check in virtually on their way to the office and receive notifications to approach the front desk once their providers are ready to see them. (This has become commonplace over the past 18 months in response to COVID, with patients waiting in their cars or outside.)

Automated emails and online forms also give patients the opportunity to complete initial registration and intake paperwork online ahead of their visit, on their time. Instead of asking patients to fill out paperwork in the waiting room, your staff can send links to these forms via email or text message.With 60% of patients preferring to complete required paperwork online, your patients will embrace your efforts to digitize the check-in process.

Patient attrition is an unenviable problem that many healthcare practices today need to confront. With the right tools and training in place, physicians and their staff can combat attrition and foster a welcoming, accessible, accommodating patient experience. Through their strategic use of technology, doctors can create office environments and processes that help them fully realize the lifetime value of each patient they serve.