In the world of practice promotion and marketing, one well-known tenet is that it costs much less to keep an existing patient than it does to attract a new one. For any practice – medical, dental, chiropractic, veterinarian, you name it – to be financially viable, developing and maintaining patient loyalty is essential. Patients come and go for reasons that you have no control over (they move away or change insurance plans, for example), but there are steps you can take that can positively influence your patient retention rate.
Let’s just assume that your practice is clinically sound in that the providers are well-trained, competent, confident, and deliver quality care. Beyond that, patient loyalty largely comes down to good service and making patients feel comfortable when they are in your office – and even when they are not in your office.
Think back to a time when you woke up in the morning with an illness or pain and your first thought was, “I need to get in to see my doctor.” What was your level of confidence that when you called the office you’d be met with compassion and concern for your situation and that you’d be given an appointment within a reasonable time period, based on the urgency of the situation? That’s what people want and need from their healthcare providers – assurance that they can get care when they need it. With that in mind, how’s your scheduling system when it comes to accommodating patients who have immediate needs? Attending to this one issue alone will build patient loyalty because, at one time or another, most of us wake up with that “I need to be seen now” feeling.
Another loyalty building strategy is so simple that it should perhaps go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: Treat patients like you want to be treated. What does this look like day-to-day? It’s being pleasant rather than abrupt (even if you’re having a bad or busy day). It’s letting patients know what’s going on in terms of wait times so that they’re not left in the reception area wondering (or fuming) when doctors run behind schedule. It’s respecting their privacy and making it clear that you take it seriously. It’s returning phone calls promptly. Pay close attention to this level of detail in your practice, because one slip-up in any one of these areas has the potential to erode patient loyalty.
You can also improve patient retention by paying attention to employee retention. Think about how comforting it is to shop in a local store or visit your favorite coffee shop and see familiar faces behind the counters. When patients know what to expect – or rather whom to expect – when they arrive at your office, they’ll enjoy that same comfortable feeling.
And, finally, when patients do leave your practice, make it a point to find out why. Even if you can’t ask them directly because they’re long gone, try to establish why someone may have left based on the experiences they had most recently in your office. Watch for trends such as patients leaving after being unable to get timely appointments, when their insurance or billing was handled incorrectly, or after they’d been cared for by a particular staff member or provider. Don’t ignore what you discover when you do this sort of sleuthing. Paying attention to what’s working – and not working – in your office can mean the difference between having a healthy practice and one that constantly struggles to keep the appointment schedule full.
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