Everyone knows that taking steps to retain existing patients is more cost-effective than engaging in marketing activities to attract new ones. Once you have loyal patients in your practice, to keep them, you typically need only to meet their expectation of delivering quality care and providing efficient, friendly service. Sounds simple, right? It is. But in too many instances, patients transfer their care to other practitioners because they feel that their most basic needs are not being met. Here are three areas to focus on this year if one of your practice resolutions is to retain the patients you have.
Make your practice accessible. If patients consistently have to wait days to be seen for an acute problem or weeks (if not months) to get on the schedule for a non-emergent issue, you are at risk of losing patients to a practice that has openings within a more reasonable time frame. We live in a world of instant everything. Even though, most likely, no harm will come from a patient waiting a couple of weeks to have a suspiciouslooking mole checked out, if you’re that patient and anxious about the mole, every day of waiting matters. Take a look at your scheduling procedures with an eye toward getting patients in sooner rather than later. If it’s genuinely impossible to streamline your scheduling, it might be time to consider recruiting another associate into the practice.
Assume patients are smart. One of the most common complaints that patients have about their doctors has nothing to do with the quality of care they receive. Instead, it’s that they feel like doctors (and sometimes nurses and other staff) are condescending or “talk down” to them. Patients today are savvy. Before they pick up the phone to make an appointment, it’s likely that they’ve carefully researched their symptoms on the Internet (which, granted, is a double-edged sword) and they show up armed with information and pointed, well thought out questions. Pity the practitioner who doesn’t take his or her patients seriously. Not only are they at risk of losing patients to competitors, but they might also find themselves with one star on the “rate your doctor” Web sites or, worse, being Tweeted about (and not in a good way).
Don’t make them wait. Yes, we know, it’s an old, tired line: Patients don’t like to be kept waiting. It’s such an old line that it’s rather interesting that “how to shorten wait times” remains such a popular topic in practice management circles. It’s still the talk of the town because the problem persists. In the same way that patients don’t want to be kept waiting to get on the schedule, they don’t want to be kept waiting once they’re in the office. If your practice-despite all of the information, tips, tricks, and ideas that are out there on how to be more timely-is still struggling with this issue, consider hiring a practice management consultant to come in and see where your bottlenecks are and how to correct them. The investment you make in an expert to help you solve the age-old wait time problem will pay dividends in the form of patient retention.