Written By David M. Williams | Chief Strategy Officer
With the high cost of medical care, patients now expect the highest level of customer service or they will seek help elsewhere. According to a study by Johns Hopkins, of 20,700 patients surveyed, approximately 23 percent of patients saw three or more primary care doctors in a two year period. Physicians can no longer look at patients as a commodity or an appointment, and should instead look at them as paying customers with HealthGrades queued up, ready to detail any mistake you or your staff make.
Here are four ways to help build patient loyalty and ensure your patients are happy, loyal and more engaged in their healthcare decisions:
1. Be Mindful of Patient Wait Times
The growing physician shortage, payment decreases and the forced utilization of electronic health records are only a few things that are responsible for patients waiting longer for care once in doctors’ offices. Patients understand that waiting to be seen by a physician is a fact of life. Industry insight studies have shown that patients waiting less than 30 minutes do not report negatively on satisfaction surveys, however after 30 minutes, many patients feel as if they are wasting their valuable time.
Create protocols in the event that case times are trending over 30 minutes of wait time. It can be as simple as advising your staff to act proactively by calling any affected appointments about the delay. Something as simple as a courtesy call can leave a lasting great impression.
2. Patient Loyalty is a Team Sport
The patient begins to formulate their judgment from the first time that they pick up the phone to schedule an appointment. A member of your front office that is having a bad day or allows the stress of their job to come through the phone can cause a patient to become concerned before setting foot in your office. Patient-facing staff should be focused on providing a friendly, caring, and concerned demeanor at every level of care.
Set clear goals for customer service and communicating with patients. Due to the sensitive nature of healthcare, kindness, respect and empathy must be practiced at all times.
3. The Importance of Social Media
Industries like retail and hospitality were some of the first sectors to embrace the power of social media. These early adapters saw the value in leveraging and shaping the consumer buying experience through a social forum. The healthcare industry as a whole is usually the last to adapt to new technology, and social media is no exception.
In a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) U.S., entitled “Social media ‘likes’ healthcare: From marketing to social business” polled over 1,000 U.S. consumers on their methods of finding hospitals, physicians, or specialists.
The results of the survey found that:
• 41% of people were influenced by social media tools as a means to choose a specific hospital, medical facility or doctor.
• 45% of people revealed that social media would affect their decision to get a second opinion.
• 34% of people stated that social media would influence their decision about taking a certain medication.
• 32% of people stated that social media would affect their choice of a health insurance plan.
Research, create, and execute engaging and relevant social media content in order to continually communicate and engage with patients.
4. Consistent Contact
Whether it is reminder calls, emails, follow-up care calls, or practice-related information, patients appreciate the effort. The personal touch of a handwritten thank you note after a visit or procedure can go a very long way in building a following of loyal patients. Consistent contact makes patients feel cared for and valued. Some examples are: birthday cards, holiday cards and e-mail newsletters.
The most cost-effective way to consistently boost patient engagement is through e-mail marketing. Providers should not be hesitant to ask their patients for their email addresses. Be sure to not over-spam your patients and only provide them relevant content and practice news.
The Effort is Worth the Reward
Medical practices devote a great deal of time, resources, and money into driving patient census, however the same effort is rarely put into patient engagement efforts. Rising premiums, longer wait times, and the overall increase of providing quality healthcare are causing many patients to second guess the need for seeking out a medical professional. Patients are keenly aware of your efforts to retain their business, and seek physicians who can provide them with the peace of mind and extra attention they believe is needed.