At a Glance
- Patient loyalty is driven by positive healthcare experiences, including easy access to care, streamlined digital experiences, and more.
- Providers should invest in digital patient engagement tools like online scheduling, reminders, patient portals, and telehealth.
- Automating administrative tasks frees up time for patient care.
- Personalized care builds loyalty. It’s important for providers to communicate regularly with patients, continue getting to know them, show they care through gestures, and connect with partners that share their values.
Despite the hectic pace of today’s independent practices, many healthcare providers are still dealing with unfilled calendars. You only have to look at patient attitudes to understand why. In a post-pandemic culture of high-tech, one-click convenience, patient loyalty isn’t something that can be taken for granted.
More and more, patient loyalty is coming into the forefront for today’s medical providers. The most successful practices are always looking at how to build customer loyalty in healthcare, repeatedly asking the question: how do you increase patient loyalty? Time and again, the answer lies in a positive healthcare experience.
A recent patient experience survey by Tebra found that 73% of people would leave a practice due to a poor experience there. More than any form of marketing — indeed, more than any other factor — a good patient experience can be the difference between high patient loyalty and the decision to leave one healthcare provider for another.
So if you own or manage a healthcare practice, what steps can you take to foster high patient engagement? Read on as we examine the key drivers for patient loyalty. In addition, explore our tips for ensuring a fully scheduled, thriving practice with the strongest possible patient experience.
What is patient loyalty?
The word “loyalty” gets a lot of play in traditional loyalty programs in direct-to-consumer industries. It brings to mind familiar systems of points and rewards connected to frequency and transactions, like buy-10-get-one-free. But patient loyalty in a healthcare practice is unique — different than in almost any other sector — in that it can create and foster relationships over the entire span of someone’s life.
“Patient loyalty in a healthcare practice can create and foster relationships over the entire span of someone’s life. ”
Even as providers are feeling the pressure of slim profit margins and diminishing hours in which to see patients, it’s essential that no one is made to feel like a number along their healthcare journey. To keep patients coming back, it’s vital that providers seek and develop lifelong relationships with them rather than putting the focus on frequency. When we discuss loyalty in healthcare, what’s at stake is a sense of active listening, thoughtful policies, and personalized patient care.
What drives patient loyalty?
Patient loyalty is driven first and foremost by meaningful relationships. People are drawn to practices that feel value-based rather than volume-based. They want places where they can access quality care while feeling appreciated, heard, and understood.
At the same time, busy patients are also seeking more convenient experiences: everything from self-service scheduling to quick availability to easy digital payments. Notably, a 2023 Tebra survey showed that what 61.7% of patients wanted most from their providers was available appointments when they needed them.
Patient loyalty is strongly tied to these key factors:
- Easy access to quality care across the care journey
- A streamlined, digitally connected healthcare experience
- A healthcare provider that keeps private data safe and secure
- A healthcare provider that demonstrates good reviews in comparison to others
- Reasonable, transparent, cost-conscious prices for services or products not covered by medical insurance
- Trust in their provider
As providers work to keep up with patients’ evolving health experience expectations, all these factors need to be treated as fundamentals for every practice. A recent study asserts that "patient loyalty can be directly influenced by the quality of digital services and the security of digital systems both directly and through patient satisfaction."
What are the benefits of patient engagement and loyalty?
Difficulty retaining patients isn’t just worrying about your healthcare practice’s finances. When it comes to fostering loyalty, the benefits of patient engagement go much further — both for you as a provider and for your patients themselves.
Having highly engaged patients can lead to:
- Healthier patients who better adhere to their treatment plans
- A more profitable, efficient healthcare practice
- A higher likelihood that your independent practice is emotionally rewarding for you and your staff
For providers and patients alike, the importance of stable, lifelong patient relationships can’t be overstated. When a healthcare provider succeeds at patient retention, the patient experience can carry on uninterrupted, medical records are less likely to be fractionalized, and less time is wasted filling in the gaps between different sources of care.
“Practices must continually evaluate what factors are driving or hindering patient loyalty and patient satisfaction. ”
In turn, your happy patients will go on to share their positive experiences with others, not only with other potential patients but also with referring physicians, who will be more likely to refer more patients to you.
Of course, negative comments should be addressed whenever possible. Practices must continually evaluate what factors are driving or hindering patient loyalty and patient satisfaction, defining a clear vision for patient care and practice growth.
Digital patient engagement drives loyalty
So, how do you increase patient loyalty and engagement? A key area to invest in (and probably the easiest place to begin) is digital patient engagement and convenience.
People prefer self-scheduling rather than communicating with your practice: today’s patients think of booking a health appointment as another on-demand, digital experience, just like a banking transaction or a restaurant reservation.
Your staff also benefits from self-service tools since they’re left with more time to spend on patient assistance. Helpful areas to automate include:
- Digital patient scheduling, intake, and payments
- Automated patient reminders (via email or text)
- Automated feedback solicitation to improve the patient experience
While you can’t add more hours to your day, you can use automation to improve the quality of the time you spend time with your patients. The single biggest time-saver for independent medical practices is automating in as many areas as possible, and you should be using it to your advantage.
5 tips for offering personalized patient care and education
Delivering a seamless, personalized experience for your patients and promoting patient education begins with you. Here are 5 key areas that will inspire patient loyalty toward your practice.
1. Create a digital home base
Studies show that a centralized, curated digital healthcare experience is extremely appealing to today’s patients. Increasingly, patients are turning to their patient portals as a preferred resource, with patient logins rising 17% from 2020 to 2021, according to a 2022 practice operations report by MGMA.
The moment a new patient comes under your care, they should be directed to a digital home base or dashboard: a convenient, easy-to-use interface that puts all the details of their care at their fingertips. Design a dashboard that includes:
- Appointment scheduling
- Appointment reminders sign-up
- EHRs (electronic health records), ideally without redundant clicks
- An inbox where your past communications reside
- A telehealth platform for remote care, if appropriate
- Targeted content drawn from patient data (age, demographics, risk factors), including a personalized prevention checklist
Some practices may want to consider a digital library: a place to steer patients toward accurate clinical information and walk them through what to do when an issue arises. FAQs are particularly helpful and minimize unnecessary phone calls.
2. Communicate with your patients outside their appointment times
Regular, engaging communications — beyond just appointment confirmations and reminders — go a long way in fostering patient engagement. Consider:
- Sending newsletters or posting updates on your social channels about seasonal health concerns like vaccines, allergy season, and back-to-school checkups
- Sending personalized communications related to specific health conditions or concerns
- Thanking families when they complete their annual preventative care
- Reaching out to help patients re-engage in their health after a deferment of care
To make sure your communications aren’t interpreted as solicitations by your patients, always tread that fine line between letting them know about relevant services or updates and pushing purchases or services they don’t want or need.
“23% of patients reported they would prefer to have more frequent check-ins and visits. 34% indicated they would like more communication with their physician between visits. ”
3. Continue getting to know your patients
Learning about your patients’ individual needs isn’t a one-and-done undertaking but an ongoing process. Conduct post-visit surveys (automated, ideally) to gain important insights about patient satisfaction and what your practice can improve upon.
Understanding your patients’ concerns is the first step towards managing them. And keep in mind that data is an extremely powerful tool that can further help you personally engage with your patients.
Gather and update patient data in order to:
- Keep track of your patients’ care preferences and suggestions
- Adjust their preferred communication methods
- Create relevant, personalized experiences and curated content
Additionally, do your part to keep your patients’ overall record updated when coordinating care with other doctors, practices, and hospitals, including:
- After a patient referral
- After an emergency hospital admittance
4. Show your patients you genuinely care
Find a way to show your patients that they’re valued by you and your team, especially in moments when some extra support will go a long way. Consider these kinds of considerate gestures:
- Free healthy cooking or yoga classes (or discounted partnerships with local providers)
- Maternity gifts for new mothers
- Care gifts for a patient undergoing chemo or radiation
- Anniversary gifts for lifelong patients, thanking them for their trust in you
5. Consider teaming up with partners who share your culture and values
Improved community health is a group effort. Your patients’ mental and physical healthcare journey can only deepen when it extends to other like-minded organizations and businesses in your community. Consider getting involved in seasonal or special events and aligning your practice with strategic partners, such as:
- A hospital foundation
- A fitness center
- An independent grocer or farmer’s market
- A local church or synagogue
- A local nonprofit
Whether it’s coming together for a good cause or hosting a social media costume contest at Halloween, get your practice involved in initiatives that people will appreciate and remember.
Evolving patient engagement: the way forward
The most successful medical practices are those that change with evolving patient expectations. By offering streamlined, efficient services across the patient journey, personalizing your communications, optimizing with digital technology wherever possible, and giving your practice a memorable presence in the community, you’re laying the foundation for high patient loyalty and a superb patient experience.
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How to get patients to keep coming back. Learn what influences patient choices and behaviors in the 2023 Patient Perspectives report.