As a physician, you place patients’ needs and well-being as the top priorities for your practice. But medical practices must juggle countless factors: staffing, finances, booking, training, education, and more.
When all of these factors are well maintained, practices wind up closing the practice availability gap. They also begin improving patient retention in healthcare and offering better patient outcomes. At this point, you might be asking yourself, “Well, how can I improve patient retention for my practice?”
There are several effective retention strategies to help independent practices bring in more patients and keep them coming back. In this article, we’ll explain patient retention, how to use these tactics to keep patients engaged and how measuring patient retention can help.
What is patient retention, and why is it important?
The patient retention rate is the percentage of patients who return to a practice over and over again. Conversely, churn rate is the rate of patient attrition a practice sees. This “patient leakage” can be patients not returning for follow-up visits or choosing to receive care at another practice.
Just as customer loyalty is key for product sales, patient retention is key for healthcare. It leads to:
- Better continuity of care, which creates better health outcomes
- The opportunity to build a patient-provider relationship, which itself increases retention and leads to improved care
- Fewer intake costs for new patients, which reduces expenses
- Profit growth. Increasing patient retention rates by 5% can lead to profit increases of 25% to 95%.
Imagine a dream patient scenario. The patient books independently, and online. They receive follow-up alerts of their choosing, reminding them of their appointment. The day of the appointment, they arrive on time, and the front desk staff are helpful and kind. The wait time is minimal, or at least accurately communicated. The techs and nurses are clear and compassionate, and the interaction with the physician is both educational and empathetic. Upon leaving, there are no hidden costs or fees to surprise the patient. They go ahead and book their next follow-up appointment before leaving.
This is the patient satisfaction that everyone strives for. So how do we make patient visits like this happen?
Fostering repeat business for your practice means much more than improving your bottom line. It improves patient outcomes by offering more regular patient monitoring and health maintenance. A thriving independent practice requires a strong patient base that keeps coming back for more. Luckily, there are many ways to retain patients.
Personalized communication for patient retention
From the first patient encounter to the last, patients should feel valued. Patients coming in feel unwell, or anxious about their well-being in some way. Every interaction should be clear and compassionate, whether online, over the phone, at the front desk, or with medical staff.
About 70% to 82% of people search for medical information online. So search and look at your practice’s website. How does it compare to the other providers in the area? Is it professional-looking? Is your online presence clear and compassionate? Can you find concise contact information and hours of operation? Can a patient access a remote patient management system, allowing them to book an appointment, right then and there?
After they’ve booked an appointment, what next? Many practices send patient reminders via email, SMS, or calls. Check to see if you have any feedback on how successful each method is for your clients. Also, look at when the reminders are sent and how effective they are. For example, your metrics might show a phone call the week prior works best for your clientele.
On the day of the appointment, are patients notified of any treatment delays? According to one survey, 80% of patients would be less frustrated if they knew how long wait times were. And annoyance would decrease for 70% of patients if their doctor simply offered an apology for the wait.
The doctor-patient relationship
This brings us to communication and bedside manner. Second only to medical training is the personal training physicians must have on supporting those who are unwell. Even stable patients can be anxious during doctor visits, exacerbated by long wait times and cold encounters. Pay medical attention to the patient’s symptoms, but also attention to the patient’s life as a whole. The more human-centered interactions become, the more relaxed patients can be and the more loyal they’ll be to your practice.
Then the balancing act comes into play between patient care and physician productivity. Staffing cannot be exempt from a conversation about retention. If a practice is understaffed, physicians may be rushed, likely causing significant wait times. And if there aren’t enough support staff, your people have less bandwidth for connecting with patients.
Staff and physician turnover have a significant effect on patient retention as well. I’ve built a relationship with Dr. X and they’ve moved to Clinic Y, why don’t I take my business to Y?Improving communication practices with clients, both behind-the-scenes and face-to-face, is the largest step you can take to keep leakage low.
How health rewards programs drive patient retention
Outside of doctor-patient relationships, health rewards programs can be a powerful tool to increase patient retention. These programs incentivize patients to actively engage in their healthcare and improve their health. They can encourage regular visits, boost commitment to treatment plans, and keep patients healthier.
“Only 4% of providers currently offer a patient loyalty program. ”
Even though these programs are successful in many industries, such patient retention strategies are underused in healthcare. Only 4% of providers currently offer a patient loyalty program, according to Tebra’s recent survey. According to Medical Economics, 52% of American consumers would join a loyalty program for a brand they frequently buy from. Why should this be any different for medical practices? The answer: It isn’t.
Loyalty programs can incentivize patients to continue to return to a practice. They are designed to make patients feel valued and appreciated by their healthcare providers. Patients appreciate the recognition and rewards they receive for their loyalty. This positive reinforcement leads to increased retention and a stronger patient relationship.
Here are a few ways your practice can implement them.
Offering appropriate discounts can incentivize:
- Referrals. In a survey conducted by Tebra, 40% of providers say they can attribute up to 25% of their new patients to referrals. Another 26% say they can attribute up to 25-50% of new patients to referrals. Referral discounts and rewards tend to work best for specialist clinics, such as orthopedics or cardiology practices.
- Survey responses. Give discounts to patients who complete surveys or leave reviews about their experience with the practice. This can help support the practice reputation while rewarding patient engagement.
- Online scheduling. Encourage patients to use online scheduling tools by offering a discount for appointments made through the practice's website or patient portal.
- Prompt payments or prepayments. In one survey, Tebra found that 94% of providers surveyed don’t offer prepayment. Meanwhile, 64% of patients surveyed say they’d be more likely to show up if they received a prepayment discount.
- Clinical research participation.
These discounts can help bring in new clients, give you more patient reviews, help simplify booking, and decrease your number of no-shows. But whatever patient discounts you use, be sure to check your state and federal laws to avoid legal problems.
Patient loyalty programs
Hospitals and larger practices, such as the Cleveland Clinic, often use loyalty programs to improve patient engagement. Patients earn points for every visit, and can then redeem them for gift cards, service discounts, or charitable donations.
- In checkpoint rewards programs, patients earn points or rewards for attending regular check-ups, screenings, and preventive healthcare visits. These programs emphasize the importance of proactive healthcare and encourage patients to prioritize their well-being. Checkpoint reward programs are particularly relevant for primary care practices and wellness centers.
- VIP discount programs offer patients preferential pricing, special access to promotions, and priority scheduling for popular procedures. Top-performing VIP loyalty programs boost revenue from clients who use them by 15-25% annually. Patients feel valued and appreciated when they receive exclusive offers. This makes them more likely to return and more likely to refer friends and family. Aesthetic clinics, like medical spas and dermatology practices, can especially benefit from VIP discount programs.
- For those treating patients with chronic conditions, chronic care management incentives are a great means to build greater patient satisfaction. By offering incentives for medication adherence and patient behavior shifts, patient management programs can pivot the patient journey toward wellness. CCM incentives improve health outcomes for patients with chronic conditions because they are more likely to receive continuous care. This demonstrates how patients appreciate the recognition and rewards for their proactive role in their chronic care routines.
- Care concierge programs are an option for vulnerable patients, especially for elderly care practices, geriatric specialists, and home healthcare providers. A patient care coordinator acts as a personal concierge for patients, managing appointments, prescriptions, and care transitions. Patients may need assistance with medical decisions or require more explanations to improve their medical knowledge. Proper physician engagement and bedside manner can go a long way to educate and soothe an easily distressed patient. But for continuity of care and longer physician-patient relationships with a complex patient, practices can turn to care coordinators.
The key here is to tailor your approach. These effective discount, loyalty, and rewards programs prove that patient retention can be optimized with strategic, specialized approaches. The most effective approach for any practice will be the one that aligns best with its patient demographic and services.
How to measure patient retention rates
There are many types of retention metrics, and they can be fitted to your practice’s definition of success. How long should a customer lifecycle be for your practice? How frequently do you want them to be scheduled? What’s your ideal retention rate? To calculate the year-over-year patient retention rate:
- Subtract the number of new patients from the total number of patients this year.
- Divide this total by the number of patients seen the previous year.
For example, let's take a practice that saw 1,200 patients this year, out of which 300 were new patients, and had 1,150 patients last year. Its patient retention rate is 78%: 1,200 - 300 = 900/1,150 = 0.78.
This formula can be adapted to any timeframe, from monthly to 5-year metrics. You can also select your cohort: How is your retention of older patients compared to the 20-30 age bracket? Fine-tuning information can help guide your practice.
Note that there are different averages for churn rate in each specialization. According to one study, the 2-year retention rate across all disciplines is about 64%. Meanwhile, dentists retain only about 41% of clients annually.
Patient retention is the cornerstone of a thriving independent practice
Nothing beats the doctor-patient relationship when it comes to retention. Of the providers Tebra surveyed, 76% said the patient-physician relationship is very important to patient retention. However, rewards and loyalty programs can both boost patient retention as well as attract new patients to the practice. This makes them an important part of patient retention strategies.
With good communication and patient loyalty programs, practices can cultivate a sense of belonging. That, in turn, incentivizes patients to remain engaged in their healthcare journey. These strategies not only boost patient retention rates but also contribute to the growth and success of independent practices.
Develop a patient retention strategy today
Need more strategies to retain clients? Read Tebra’s free guide on how to optimize your practice through a seamless patient experience.
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