A recent study showed an average national patient growth rate of 45%, but a patient churn rate of 48%. That means healthcare providers are losing patients at a faster rate than they are keeping them bad news for private practices and hospitals alike.
Why the high churn?
With just a couple swipes on their mobile phones, they can view online reviews, book an appointment, and switch providers in a moment.
For providers, this signifies a critical shift in thinking: Now, more than ever, private healthcare practices need to focus on holding on to existing patients by improving patient loyalty and experience. In other words, they need to prioritize patient retention.
Retention > acquisition
As a private healthcare practice, it might be tempting to focus heavily on outreach and marketing efforts over improving existing patient experience.
And while effective marketing is key to expanding your practice, even a stellar acquisition rate can’t make up for a failing retention rate. Other than the fact that you’re earning a poor reputation by driving away patients in droves, you’re also spending a ton of money on acquiring new patients. According to Harvard Business Review, it’s 5-25X more expensive to acquire a new client than it is to keep an existing one.
Retention is always the more cost-effective strategy.
But the power of retention isn’t just about holding onto the patients you have. Having plenty of loyal, long-term patients also creates more value for your private practice in the form of referrals. Loyal, long-term patients are more likely to refer their friends, family members, and coworkers to your practice–generating additional growth without any cost of acquisition.
Finally, loyal patients pose less of an administrative burden to your practice. Knowing the drill, they typically complain less, require no on-boarding process, and will even be more likely to participate in various services or purchase products you may sell.
In short, high patient retention is a win. Here’s how to achieve it for your private practice:
Think through patient experience
How to help ensure patients keep coming back?
Think through your customer experience–from on-boarding to first appointment to follow-up to long-term plan–and consider how you might improve the patient journey at your private practice.
On-boarding a new patient can be a complex and administrative-heavy experience. As a healthcare provider, you most likely require a decent amount of private information from the patient, including medical history, prescription usage, symptoms, prior diagnoses or test results, and healthcare information.
Using electronic intake forms can significantly improve the on-boarding experience for both patient and provider. Electronic forms are accessible and convenient for patients, who can fill out forms online and send them in with just a couple clicks. Electronic forms are likewise convenient for providers, who can collect patient information well before an appointment and give themselves adequate time to prepare.
Scheduling and canceling appointments may become an ongoing source of frustration for patients who must call up a private practice and deal with holds, answering machines, and inconvenient hours. Give your patients the ability to schedule, reschedule, cancel, and confirm appointments online and via text message. Not only will they appreciate the convenience factor, but they may be more likely to continue scheduling appointments if you make it fast and simple for them.
Can your patients easily access appointment notes, test results, and other types of patient information? In an age of social media and apps, your patients are accustomed to having an online account for just about everything. A patient portal gives your patients easy access to relevant information and helps them participate actively in their own journey at your practice.
What’s your in-office experience like for patients? Does your practice have a warm, inviting, and comfortable atmosphere, or does it feel cold and sterile? Are your staff friendly and helpful, or are they frazzled and distant? Have you created a space where patients can feel heard and understood? Or are you rushing patients through appointments to stay on schedule?
Give your practice an honest assessment of how it is meeting the needs of your patients, and make adjustments where needed!
Measure patient-related KPIs
Next, you’ll want to look at hard data that indicates how your practice is performing in terms of churn, retention and patient satisfaction.
To measure your patient churn rate, choose a single time period (such as 3 months, 6 months, or a year), and then use the following formula:
# of customers that churned over a time period / # of total customers at the beginning of time period = Churn Rate
If your churn rate is below 48%, then you’re performing better than the majority of healthcare providers. But since your competitors have set the bar pretty low, you’ll still want to aim lower.
You’ll always have a positive churn rate, but using some of the strategies mentioned above, you should be able to decrease churn…and encourage patients to stick with your practice longer-term.
Next, measure your retention using the following formula:
[(# of patients at end of time period – # of patients acquired during time period) / # of patients at beginning of time period] x 100 = Retention Rate
Other than providing powerful insight into how successfully your practice is currently retaining patients, this metric also acts as a point of reference for the future. As you continue to make improvements and implement new tools and strategies in your practice, you can now measure how successfully your efforts are increasing retention.
Customer satisfaction (CSAT & NPS)
Finally, you’ll want to ask your customers directly for their feedback on how satisfied they are with your practice, and how likely they are to recommend your practice to others.
Using a customer satisfaction survey, you can a) gather hard data on customer satisfaction and loyalty, and b) collect open-ended feedback you can use to improve your practice.
Your survey can focus on one of two KPIs:
CSAT measures patient satisfaction by asking the following question:
How satisfied are you with X Practice? Provide your rating on a scale of 0-10 (0 being extremely dissatisfied, 10 being extremely satisfied).
Then, you’ll ask a follow-up question: Please explain your rating.
NPS measures patient loyalty by asking the following question:
How likely are you to recommend Practice X to a friend, family member, or colleague? Please provide a rating on a scale of 0-10 (0 being extremely unlikely, 10 being extremely likely).
Like CSAT, you’ll also give patients an open-ended opportunity to explain their answer.
Using these satisfaction-focused metrics, you can gain valuable intel into how likely your patients are to stay with your practice. If a patient is extremely dissatisfied, she’s likely to churn quickly. If, on the other hand, a patient is extremely likely to recommend your practice to another, then you know that you’ve successfully developed a long-term relationship with her.
But perhaps the most useful aspect of these surveys is that they give patients an opportunity to tell you why they are satisfied with your practice (or why not). The result? You get specific, actionable feedback you can use to further improve your retention rate.
Free Download: Guide: Build a Net Promoter Score Survey for Patients
Using intakeQ to boost retention
If you implement just one new tool or strategy to increase patient retention, you might want to try a digital platform that contributes to a better patient experience overall. intakeQ could help you hold onto your existing patients with:
- HIPAA-compliant transfer of customized electronic intake forms — both mobile- and desktop-friendly
- Convenient online scheduling
- Fast and easy appointment confirmations via text message
- Patient portals for greater transparency and accessibility
- Anonymous forms you can use for patient satisfaction surveys and feedback
- And much more.
Ultimately, intakeQ can help you create a more personalized, convenient patient experience–meaning potentially higher retention, more referrals, an improved reputation, and lowered costs of acquisition. To try it free for 14 days, click here.