6 Challenges in Patient RetentionPosted: October 6, 2022 - By Health Dev
Customer acquisition and attrition are two critical elements in measuring a business’s success. If the latter starts increasing beyond the former, the company is probably doing something wrong and needs to take immediate action.
If you’re frequently losing patients, you need to develop effective patient retention strategies. Remember that patient attrition is almost inevitable since patients either die or become healthy. But if this continues and you don’t acquire new clients, you may face significant revenue losses each year.
Maintaining a balance between losing patients and gaining new ones is key to retaining your revenue flow. However, you may encounter several patient retention challenges, such as lack of communication, the complicated appointment process, and long waiting times.
How can you deal with these challenges and have loyal patients for a long time? Let’s find out.
How Patient Retention Affects Medical Practices
Patient retention in healthcare refers to enhancing the patient experience to satisfy them. This in turn results in customer loyalty that persuades these people to keep coming back to you.
Of course, the goal of healthcare providers is to heal people, not keep patients coming back even if they don’t need treatment. However, some chronic conditions need lifelong treatments and follow-up visits. In this case, the healthcare provider ensures that these patients complete their entire treatment with them and don’t leave the process in the middle.
Patient retention is the percentage of patients returning to you for multiple visits. Of course, you can’t always measure this percentage in every case, but it is a crucial factor to evaluate the success chances of your medical practices. But how?
Understand the impact of patient retention in successful practices this way: Take any business and study its customer acquisition and retention strategies. You’ll notice the following things:
- Customer loyalty. To retain a client, a business goes above and beyond to provide them with better experience and services. When a client (patient) sees these efforts, they ultimately become returning customers.
- Lesser cost. It’s cheaper and more straightforward for most companies to retain existing customers than to acquire new ones.
- Reputation boost. Another positive effect of having loyal patients is a reputation boost. Satisfied customers are likely to refer to a business in their circle. This word of mouth leads to more customers without spending separately on acquisition.
In medical practices, the benefits of patient retention are the same. When your patients have a good experience with your health services, they’re more likely to come back to you whenever they face any health-related issues. This will even happen if you’ve given them bad news about their health on the first visit.
Many determinants of retention are within your control, except for patients’ finances and transportation issues. The factors that you can change to improve the customer experience include:
- Speaking kindly to your patients
- Displaying empathy
- Listening to patients’ concerns
- Showing flexibility where possible
- Answering patients’ questions promptly
- Paying attention to patients’ feedback
Patient retention ensures the success of a medical practice. It also helps you determine whether your clinic is making a profit or going into loss.
What Are Challenges in Increasing or Maintaining Your Patient Retention Rate?
Patient retention depends on how many positive touchpoints you create for your patients. These touchpoints determine whether a patient will return for your services or leave.
To make these positive touchpoints happen, you’d need to plan proactively. Divide your patient retention strategies into three stages: building retention via your office services, training your staff, and interacting with patients.
These three steps will help you build long-term patient relationships. Unfortunately, doing so isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many healthcare providers face challenges in increasing and maintaining their patient retention rate.
Let’s go through six challenges in patient retention and see how you can overcome them.
1.) Lack of Communication With Current Patients
Communication is the key to establishing any long-term relationship. Whether an e-commerce business or a clinic, customers prefer those services that facilitate them throughout the buying process.
Patients usually have several concerns and queries about their health condition. So they look for healthcare providers who are always available to listen to and pay attention to their needs.
A lack of communication can create a gap between you and the patients, which may push them to leave. Unfortunately, in the quest for patient recruitment, many healthcare providers tend to ignore their existing patients’ needs.
To counter the communication barrier, take the time to hear your patients’ concerns. Even if it’s not any question, you can simply start a conversation about their day. Make your clients feel special and validate their concerns.
You can also conduct patient satisfaction surveys and ask your clients how they would like to receive healthcare services. You can create a free online survey and spread them throughout your clientele.
If you take action on any patient’s suggestion, let them know that their idea was great and you’ve implemented it.
The goal is to stay connected with your patients throughout the treatment course and be available for them.
2.) Long Waiting Times Create Negative Experiences
Let’s be honest: no one likes to wait. When you ask a patient, they will first complain about how long they always sit in your office’s waiting room.
Many clinics tend to confirm more appointments than their capacity, leading to a longer response time. That’s not at all a good practice. You should be realistic when confirming your appointments so the patients don’t have to wait long. Or else, you may see some of them losing interest in your services or not showing up at all.
Following a schedule is a major factor in enhancing patient loyalty. But it’s not easy to run on a strict schedule every day.
If you see things going out of your hands, you need to make extra efforts to enhance the customer experience sitting in the waiting room. For example, put magazines, books, or light and lively music in the room. You can also switch on the TV and put on an exciting show to interest the patients.
Doing so will distract the clients’ attention from your flaws. As a result, they will feel comfortable and lose track of time while waiting for their turn.
However, these tricks may not always work, so stay tight and avoid creating negative patient experiences.
3.) Lack of Appointment Reminders Can Lead to No-Shows
Sometimes, you may see fewer patients sitting in the waiting room than the appointments made for that day. Before you blame the patients for not showing up, answer the question: “Did you send them appointment reminders?” If you didn’t, then the no-shows make sense.
Appointment reminders are an easy way to ensure that all the patients show up at the right time. You can send a text message, email, or make a phone call to your patients one day before the appointment to remind them.
To make this process easier and quicker, you can set automated appointment reminders that the patients receive automatically before their appointment date.
However, you can’t avoid specific emergencies and mishaps. These may cause issues not only for your office operations, but for your patients as well.
For example, your one staff member is stuck in traffic or has a flat tire and will be two hours late. This may disrupt your entire schedule.
In such cases, you don’t have to send an appointment reminder. Instead, call those patients who have first appointments on the day and ask them if they are comfortable coming later or rescheduling their appointment. If your patients have arrived, apologize and tell them the ground realities.
So, while reminders are important, ensure not to send them days before the appointment. Instead, leave some room for staff emergencies.
4.) Inability to Access Health Records Reduces Patient Education
With the popularity of electronic health records (EHRs) in the healthcare industry, patients now want to be more aware of their health conditions. In addition, many wish to access their health records to make informed decisions.
A research study found that EHRs can reduce patients’ healthcare costs and provide access to health records, self-care, and quality health services. Moreover, increased education about their health records reduces anxiety in the patients. This advanced awareness also established positive relationships between doctors and patients.
The study also found that patients accessing their health records are more motivated to engage in self-management and enhance recovery scores.
If your clinic isn’t giving access to patients to their health records, you may fail to retain them for a long time. Patients want to stay educated about every detail, so try becoming a source of information for them.
You can enable patients to check their health records in the patient portals. If that’s not possible, try engaging them between appointments with exciting and valuable health information. You can also enhance your patient’s education by publishing informative content on the website.
5.) Not Taking Patient Satisfaction Into Account
Ensuring client satisfaction is an effective patient retention solution. If your clients are unsatisfied or unhappy with your services, they will definitely not return. At worst, they may post negative online reviews about your medical practices. This means you will lose not only the existing patients, but also the potential ones.
Making patients happy doesn’t require you to spend millions of money. Instead, you can be kind and show that you care about your patients.
For example, offer them water when they arrive or provide them a snack if they’re getting bored.
You can also celebrate your patients’ birthdays in the clinic if they are present. Otherwise, send them a personalized birthday wish through text messages. Similarly, you can help them celebrate holidays too.
While kindness goes a long way in ensuring patient satisfaction, their feedback also matters a lot. Therefore, if you get negative feedback, you must react positively and address the concern as soon as possible.
Even if their problems don’t get fixed, many patients just want acknowledgement and an apology.
6.) Complicated and Manual Appointment Scheduling Can Be Overwhelming
Appointment scheduling is the gateway to increasing your client base. If your patients can’t schedule an appointment within a few minutes, they’re likely to get upset even before you see them at the office.
In the worst-case scenario, a complicated appointment schedule can force them to go elsewhere. On average, a person should take only a couple of minutes to book an appointment.
However, manual appointment scheduling can elongate this time duration. To overcome this challenge, you should opt for online appointment scheduling. Creating online patient portals will allow the patients to book and view their past and scheduled appointments.
The portal will enable the patients to communicate directly with their healthcare providers while sitting at their homes. In addition, with an online appointment scheduling feature, patients can also benefit from digital forms for prescription refills and much more.
Still, many patients prefer manual appointment scheduling. So you must ensure that your office is open from early morning until late evening to cater to the working schedules of your patients. This may make scheduling appointments more accessible and enhance the patients’ office experience.
How You Can Ensure Positive Patient Interactions Through Relationship Building
Long-term and trustworthy relationships between patients and doctors are necessary for the patient’s speedy recovery. When patients feel heard and accommodated, they’ll keep returning for their current and future health problems.
In case of mismanagement or delay from your side, satisfied patients are more likely to understand your situation. This prevents chaos and ensures a relationship of goodwill.
So how can you ensure positive patient interactions by building a doctor-patient relationship? Here is how:
- Keep your patients informed. Many patients take a lot of stress when they find that something’s wrong with them. Thus, you must have a transparent relationship with your clients and explain everything to them. Keeping your patients informed makes them trust you.
- Remember one special thing about each patient. By building a solid relationship with patients, healthcare providers can learn one interesting fact about each patient. This way, you can start positive, personalized conversations with your patients and make them feel special. Although doing so may sound complicated, it can make a huge difference in retaining your patients.
- Give presents to the patients. You can read about a psychological rule called the “Law of Reciprocity.” This law revolves around the give-and-take concept, which significantly supports patient retention. When you give a present to someone, they instantly know they have to return the favor in any form. This is why giving presents to your patients on special occasions will make them valued and keep visiting your office.
- Pay full attention during visits. Paying attention to the patients is an effective way to make them feel special. So you shouldn’t start side conversations with nurses or colleagues during patient visits. When your patients see that nothing else is more important to you, they become more open to you about their concerns. This helps build positive patient relationships.
- Community outreach. Sometimes your clients may hesitate to schedule an appointment because of financial issues. Or perhaps, they may have forgotten about your service if it has been so long. Organizing a community outreach day offering free services will help you reactivate these patients. You can then provide them with a free exam and help them evaluate their follow-up treatment options. If it’s your lucky day, these patients may bring their friends and families to your office.
- Communicate Results. Even though patients can easily acquire or download their medical reports, they can’t understand the results. They need a professional that can communicate the results to them. Thus, a good relationship with your patients makes them feel comfortable reaching out to you to find their answers. Always explain the results in easy words.
Take Care of Your Patients Inside and Outside of Office Visits
Patient attrition is a common concern in the healthcare industry. Many healthcare providers struggle to balance patient retention and attrition, significantly reducing their annual revenue. Those who try to retain their patients often experience several challenges, which are a huge barrier to building a strong doctor-patient relationship.