Patient Retention: Understanding the Value of Your Current Patients to Your Future Success

Friday 19 January 2018 by Graciela Rojas
When looking toward the future and planning the success of their practices, many practitioners have the tendency to focus on expanding their base, gaining new patients, and setting goals for growth to achieve their hopes and dreams. Of course, attracting new patients to your practice is a necessary part of growing. Without an influx of new patients, no practice can survive the normal attrition that happens in any office. But without a solid plan for retaining current patients, growth will not be possible, or will be minimized at best.

There are some practical aspects to be considered when looking at retention and growth. You need to be aware of what’s actually happening in your practice so you can plan accordingly. The first area to take an assessment of is how many patients you actually have. Check your database to identify your total number of patients, then subtract the number of patients you’ve seen only once or twice and then never again. The remaining number is closer to your actual patient total. Sometimes good patients move away and don’t let you know. Sometimes they change care providers because they are unhappy with something. We’ll come back to these patients in a bit. When was the last time you calculated your attrition rate (assuming you’ve ever done
to begin with)? To figure out your attrition rate, add up the number of new or short-term patients and divide that by your total number of patients (remember to exclude  those who came once and never returned). Does this number surprise you? Bigger than you thought? What is an acceptable rate of attrition? An attrition rate of 10 to 30% is considered manageable and tolerable in most practices. Henry Schein places a “normal” attrition rate at 17%.An attrition rate of 40% is something to pay attention to, and an attrition rate of more than 50% may indicate a problem to be addressed within your practice.

Some level of attrition is always going to be part of a practice. Younger patients grow up and move to other areas. Older patients move to care facilities or pass away. Patients move to other states for work or marriages. But what about that group we mentioned before? What about patients who leave because they are unhappy with your practice for some reason? Why do they leave? Is this just a natural part of the attrition process, or can something be done to keep most of these patients?
The hard work of building your patient base by finding new patients can be a frustrating waste of time if you’re not keeping the patientsyou  already have. Nearly 70% of patients who take their business somewhere else do so because they feel they are being treated with indifference,  sure that every patient feels like the only patient is the goal of patient relationship management, and it is the key factor in improving your retention. How do you accomplish that? It’s not as hard as you  may think it is, and with a solid office staff and a bit of planning, you could see your retention number begin to climb almost immediately.
COMMUNICATION The first and most important element in this plan is communication. It needs to start before someone becomes a patient and remain ongoing throughout the life of your relationship with that patient. Begin by communicating before someone even becomes a patient by using the channels available to you. In addition to your traditional marketing sources, your website and social media pages  are excellent sources for providing information, answering questions, and offering new patients an easy means of scheduling appointments with you. You can post newsletters, question and answer columns, and informational blogs and materials that demonstrate your expertise in your chosen field. 

During the course of your relationship with patients, communication can be expanded beyond simple appointment reminders (although, those are invaluable to maintaining patients as well). Allowing patients access to information through a patient portal provides a safe, HIPAA-compliant means of keeping communication open that is also convenient. Patients can access x-rays, reports, support information, or even their bill through the portal, and they can do so on any smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer.

The second piece is marketing. You may feel you already do a good job with marketing, but do you   market to your existing clients? Many patients feel left out of the loop in favor of attracting new patients to your business. Make sure that you market to your current clients along with new or potential clients. Offer them rewards for their longevity with you. Provide them with articles and research that will benefit them and their families. Offer them discounts or rewards when they refer new patients to your practice. When your marketing outreach includes your current patients, you demonstrate the value you place on them and give them an incentive to stay with you.  Companies like Best Hospital Advisor provide an opportunity for international hospitals to increase exposure to medical travelers who seek to identify providers offering value for money and even local consumers who are shopping for care in a national context. These innovative tool have been developed by Crowd Ventures a healthcare startup which seeks to use the power of the “crowd” to empower consumers in the healthcare market,  BHA has a database of 8400 + providers around the world with consumer-based reviews, information on satisfaction surveys, quality data and additional information that patients can use in making healthcare decisions.

The final step is feedback. Patients' online reviews — whether negative or positive — are out there for the world to see, and their effect on other prospective patients' provider selection process should not be underestimated. Online reviews are no different than posting something on a billboard for millions of people to see". 

Patient retention is a multidimensional issue that requires a multidimensional approach. As you review your practice and determine the areas of  strength and weakness within your organization, you can compare against these suggestions to see what you’ve tried, what you haven’t tried, and what makes the most sense for your organization. It takes time to recapture lost patients and to build retention. Results won’t happen overnight. Once you commit to trying a few new strategies, begin tracking your progress month by month. By the end of the year, you should have a clear understanding of which strategies worked best for your practice. Then you can capitalize on those techniques and decide which additional techniques to try or discard.

When you begin rebuilding your retention rates, don’t ease off. Set specific retention goals and continue to work on them year after year. It won’t take long before you are seeing very high retention numbers which will impact your bottom line. You should also see improved morale, increased efficiency, and an increased number of referrals. It’s never too early to begin, so start building your new future today!

For more information about BHA click here
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