Your practice marketing plan probably includes strategies such as advertising in the yellow pages, having a presence on the internet, using nicely designed brochures and forms, offering patient education seminars, and perhaps engaging in a bit of social media. The tactic that too many marketing plans don’t include, however, is the one that requires virtually no investment of either time or money: keeping the patients you already have. Every time someone leaves your practice, that’s one more patient you must attract to make up for the loss. Here are some common reasons that patients vote with their feet and transfer their care to another practitioner.
Poor access. People are willing to wait to get on the schedule, to a point. If you’re booked out months in advance to take new patients or provide routine care for existing patients, it might be time to consider bringing on a new associate.
Long wait times. One of the most common complaints patients have is being made to wait excessively, either in the reception area or once they’re in an exam room. If long wait times are a problem in your office, take a look at alternative ways to schedule patients or try to employ new back office procedures to improve patient flow.
Billing glitches. If patients spend more time trying to determine if you billed their insurance company correctly, what those mysterious charges are or how much they owe than they do seeing the doctor, you’ve got a problem. Most people will forgive an occasional error, but if billing mistakes become the norm, patients may conclude that your practice is just not worth the trouble. Also, be careful not to “nickel and dime” patients or insist that they come in for an appointment for something simple like hearing about normal lab results.
Attitude of doctor and/or staff. The best medical care in the world cannot make up for doctors and staff who are impatient, condescending, rushed, arrogant or surly. Healthcare workers who cannot deliver care and service with a positive attitude are likely in the wrong profession.
Lack of confidence in the doctor. If a patient is honest enough to tell you that this is why they’re leaving your practice, the doctor in question needs to know. This is delicate, to say the least, but it’s not something that should be swept under the rug.
How can you find out what’s in play when a patient leaves your practice in favor of a competitor? Just ask. When someone calls or writes to have their records transferred, simply inquire about why they’re changing doctors. Be professional and polite in how you ask, and be careful not to take a defensive tone. You can say, for example, “When someone leaves our practice we like to understand why. Would you mind sharing why you’re transferring your care at this time?” The patient may not feel comfortable sharing their reason for leaving, and if that’s the case, don’t push the issue. But you may glean valuable information about how to improve a policy or procedure in your office just by asking. The fact that you’re interested might even cause the patient to reconsider their decision.