The importance of patient loyalty

August 19, 2015

Read and learn techniques for bridging the gap from satisfied patients to loyal patients. One gets you by, the other ensures you thrive.

Cheryl BiseraHave you ever considered the difference between patient satisfaction and patient loyalty? One gets you by, the other ensures you thrive. In reality, a ‘satisfied’ patient might simply not be bothered enough to change practices. In other words, they may not be wowed but they stay because it’s inconvenient to switch and their basic needs are being met. Once this type of patient has an alluring alternative-that could be an enthusiastic referral from a friend, an uber-convenient pharmacy clinic close to home or an enticing special-they’ll change practices without batting an eye. The worst part is that you might not even know that they left at all…or why.  Even high patient-satisfaction rates cannot be interpreted as patient loyalty; loyalty is on a whole other level.

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Loyal patients will weather changes in your practice because there is something so good at your practice that they can’t conceive of finding it better anywhere else. They also enthusiastically evangelize for your practice, sending friends and family your way. Patient referrals are your most powerful marketing tool, no small gift! And… it’s personal. After all, prices, insurance, and décor change, but they won’t get you and your staff at another practice. For this reason, relationship is at the core of what makes a patient loyal to a practice. But, if service stinks, access is poor and the décor is outdated, the message that “we don’t care” comes through and dampens the relationship. It’s more than looking into the eyes of patients and listening, though that is so powerful; it’s about dialing in the patient experience and building the relationship!

NEXT: The holy grail of customer service

 

The holy grail of customer service

Patient loyalty is like the holy grail of customer service in the medical practice. If you can find that sweet spot, it won’t matter what shiny new thing rolls into town – your practice will be rock solid and thriving. I’ve seen the practices that have it and I’ve seen those that don’t. On one hand is a practice that seems to endure the test of time; long-time patients are the norm and they usually don’t need to advertise. In fact, these practices often can’t accommodate all their new patient requests. On the other hand is the practice that must constantly strive to attract new patients to replenish those who are lost through attrition. This is sometimes done by accepting less-than-attractive insurance contracts, which can force a practice to have to see more patients in less time, driving service lower and contributing to a vicious cycle of downward spiraling quality. The influx of new patients can look deceivingly healthy but this is an expensive, unsustainable and far less satisfying model.

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It’s likely you fall somewhere in the middle: you have a few loyal patients who refer to you, but you suspect that your ‘satisfied’ patients are there because you are contracted with their insurance and because you’re the most convenient choice. If you want to take control and strengthen your practice through patient loyalty, I have good news. All the things that garner patient loyalty are simply great business principals anyhow; you have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

NEXT: Make it happen

 

Make it happen

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Here are some ways your practice can nurture patient loyalty through stronger patient-clinic and patient-physician relationships:

  • Treat every new patient like you would an important guest. They should be introduced to staff, shown around and welcomed to the practice – celebrate their first visit and leave an incredible first impression!

  • Express appreciation.  Find ways to thank patients for continuing to choose you. Never miss an opportunity to say ‘thanks,’ especially if a patient has referred someone to you.

  • Mind wait times, access to appointments and perceived time with the physician. These time issues are extremely important to patients, enough to drive an otherwise happy patient away. The first two can be resolved with a scheduling template that allows adequate time for each patient, starting on time and eliminating the lunch time shut-down – improving access by keeping phone lines open. The later means making the patient feel like they had the full attention of their physician. Some ways to do this include using body language, eye contact and asking if they have any questions or concerns.

  • Communicate as much as possible. You really can’t over communicate. Let patients know what you expect and what they should expect as often as possible. This could include early communication about payment and payment options, appointment reminders, opportunity to ask questions, using their name and communicating rescheduling options when the practice is running behind. This kind of communication expresses respect and makes patients feel comfortable and in control.

  • Find out what they want and give it to them. Through patient surveys you can find out what they are pining for before someone else offers it. For example, you might find out that your patients would take advantage of Saturday hours and decide to have a provider available for a monthly Saturday clinic

NEXT: Bridging the loyalty gap

 

Bridging the loyalty gap

To really find out where you stand in the loyalty gap-the process of turning satisfied patients into loyal patients-it’s crucial to survey patients and give them alternative avenues of giving honest feedback. Remember to ask them how willing they are to refer a family member or friend, and track where new patients are coming from to find out if that is in fact happening. Patient feedback will help you know what kinds of service changes can bridge that gap and convert them into loyal, referring patients. It’s equally important to have a staff that embraces feedback and the challenge of using every opportunity to strengthen the patient-clinic relationship.

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It’s worth mentioning that even if you have attained the holy grail of patient loyalty; you always have to be ready for a curve ball. Tomorrow a shiny new thing might roll into your town, so keep minding the gap between patient satisfaction and patient loyalty by nurturing patient loyalty all the time, regardless of your current success. Then you can reap the benefits of a thriving practice full of patients that refer and a practice culture that’s satisfying for both patients and practice members!

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