So much of patient loyalty comes down to communication. Wondering why patients aren’t coming back? Here are five actionable strategies that can help increase word-of-mouth recommendations while reducing patient churn.
Patient loyalty is top-of-mind for many healthcare providers. And for a good reason: according to a patient loyalty report from NRC health, the dollar value of a lifetime patient can reach MYR 5,818,400. Beyond the dollar signs, continuity of care and better healthcare outcomes are more likely for patients who come back for follow-ups, check-ups, and post-op consultations.
This is just one of the reasons patients are happy, well served and supported. To this end, communication plays a central role. Helping healthcare providers improve communication best practices throughout the patient journey is the goal of this blog post.
5 Ways to Improve Patient Loyalty and Reduce AttritionThe same NRC Health report found that 80% of patients would switch providers “based on convenience alone.” Of course, one of the best ways to make life more convenient for healthcare consumers is to provide useful and timely information. Raise your hand if you, as a healthcare consumer, already have:
- Failed to show up to an appointment because the provider never followed up after the appointment was scheduled
- Sent emails or messages through a patient portal and never received a response
- Didn’t receive “prep instructions” for a surgery or procedure until right before the appointment date
1. Personalize Your Communications
While you must remain HIPAA compliance (Health Insurance Protability and Accountability Acts), there are ways to personalize communications using unprotected data. For example, segment communications by (and appeal to) location, age, or gender; and related to local community events, identity, etc. Both are possible strategies for health systems to help patients feel more than just one number, especially for those serving large areas or states.
Here a few examples:
- Launch a web, advertising, and email campaign designed to raise COVID-19 awareness among senior citizens
- Email event invites to a group based on their location to raise awareness about a fundraising event in their geographic area
- Build email campaigns that allow the recipient to choose what they receive. Then send them personalized content around that topic.
When it comes to your relevance and form of communication, understand that people can sense generic messages, sent from a robot from a mile away. Avoid sending mass emails to large lists without any personalization. And be sure to send the contact details of a real person. For example, a personalized message from a patient’s doctor, office manager, or organization leader goes far beyond a message from an anonymous brand.
2. Make Empathy a Differentiator
If patient attrition is an issue for your practice or at least a concern, ask yourself a simple question: Are my patients heard by my team? After the survey, report after report, you’ll find empathy among healthcare consumers’ top expectations. People need to know that their health care providers are listening to them, that they are committed to helping them lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
The only way to make patients feel heard is to turn empathy into a marketing mindset. At every stage of the patient experience, your team must consider the patient’s perspective. What are their needs and concerns at the moment? For example, if they recently had hip surgery, what are some frequently asked questions by patients at this time? And what might be their attitudes and goals? Another example: How might someone undergoing cancer treatment feel about the payment notice? What can you do to communicate information in a more empathetic way?
Just asking these questions is a step in the right direction towards more empathetic care. And there is no reason that this empathetic mindset cannot be extended to the level of practicing, making appointments, and checking in to the exam room itself.
3. Create an Environment of Safety and Support
When healthcare problems arise, whether personal or social, people often look to medical providers for a voice of authority. Healthcare providers who can effectively demonstrate that patient safety is a top priority tend to generate more patient loyalty.
What does this look like in practice? The most obvious and recent example is the steps healthcare providers take to protect patients from COVID19. In general, suppliers can demonstrate their commitment to safety by communicating:
- Information about the latest regulatory guidelines (and how they affect patients)
- Research around new treatments and procedures for chronic diseases
- New investments in cutting-edge equipment and technology
- Training, continuing education, and certifications achieved by staff members
The need to communicate these activities can easily be overlooked; they may not seem important to the patient or are relatively commonplace. But they can help differentiate your practice from competitors that don’t take patient safety or continuing education seriously.
4. Be Known for Consistency
Many people have a common belief that doctors or hospitals only call to give bad news. But that’s not the only reason to call. Today, however, consistent communication is the hallmark of a trusted healthcare brand. People want regular feedback from their health care providers, as long as the communication they receive is humane and helpful.
By sending consistent communications, both healthcare and marketing, you can strengthen your brand as a valuable and trusted resource. One of the main ways to create value is to share expertise that patients can actually use. Look for opportunities in digital and clinical environments to share educational content that helps patients improve their health.
- An orthopedics group might publish video series to social media covering stretching routines, post-workout tips, etc.
- A multi-location dentist can regularly publish blog content and video shorts covering teeth care, reminders, and new product reviews (for example, does charcoal really work?)
- A cardiologist can build campaigns around how to identify a heart attack, what to expect after heart surgery, and guides to heart-healthy foods.
- A plastic surgery office might create before/after campaigns, video testimonials, and procedure overviews for high-volume plastic surgeries.
5. Go Beyond Digital Communication Strategies
With the rise of healthcare marketing technologies, it’s all too easy to automate everything. It’s also too impersonal. Don’t overlook how powerful the personal reach is.
For example, you can identify key points in the patient journey where it makes sense – or maybe good – to hear from a real person. Have a nurse or doctor pick up the phone and call the patient after a primary appointment to make sure they are okay. If you haven’t heard from a patient for a long time, contact them after six months, then a year, to check in and make an appointment.
Traditional mail can also be effective. Most patients have a ton of emails, texts, appointments, and other concerns to go through every day. The pending appointment reminder in their inbox might just be the thing that ensures their confirmation (and makes them visible). Traditional mail also works for your company or team updates, thank you notes, invitations and holiday greetings.
Although “making” mail or making phone calls may require human intervention, the planning and operation of these operations can be automated. In fact, many patient management systems today offer features or integrations that can help automate personalized communications at scale.
Make the Effort and Patients Will Reward You
While it may seem odd to suggest postal mail in the digital age, it’s an important issue. While many healthcare consumers use technology to search for care, very few are looking for healthcare providers who do nothing more than add digital noise. It’s refreshing when a bit of personality emerges when service providers treat patients like people, not numbers.
Easier said than done, especially as forward momentum tends to drive automation, mass media, and massive marketing spend. That’s why we recommend a holistic approach to communication, one that is constantly being practiced, improved, and supported. If you can automate parts of it, all the better. Remember that “personalization” contains the word “person”.
We’ve found this to be one of the strongest signals you can send to the patients you care about.