The healthcare industry is expected to grow faster than any other sector between now and 2024.
But it’s not just a job growth or an increase in demand for nurses, doctors and other healthcare practitioners. Patient care is also expected to increase exponentially over the coming years.
In fact, many practices are preparing for (what some are calling) the “Silver Tsunami” – an aging population approaching retirement combined with the expansion of health benefits to the general population.
While growth opportunities abound, it doesn’t mean they are guaranteed.
For private medical practices, in particular, a concentrated effort will still need to be made to increase patient numbers and improve their quality this year and in the future.
With that in mind, here are a few ways that private practices can boost their patient numbers to take advantage of the projected growth.
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Growth Tip #1: Invest in IT (And Other Technology)
Information Technology (IT) can be expensive, but it’s important for private practices to focus on IT and other technology to support the quality of their care.
From maintaining Electronic Health Records (EHR) to sending electronic prescriptions and automating the ordering of supplies, modern IT systems have significantly improved medical efficiency.
Compared with the average cost for implementing an EMR system, the savings are favorable. With modern EHR systems, as well as things like patient portals and electronic intake forms, human errors are reduced.
When looking to become sustainable for the future, healthcare practices should consider technology that can assist with time-consuming (and financially draining) tasks like appointment confirmation, intake processes and appointment reminders.
Growth Tip #2: Upgrade to a Patient-Friendly Website
The modern healthcare practice is also becoming more patient-centric.
This means that patients want technology – websites, tablets, mobile apps, etc. – that caters to their timelines and their needs.
One Software Advice study found that 75% of patients surveyed indicated they were at least “moderately interested” in completely replacing an in-person office visit with a virtual consultation.
But this requires healthcare practices to become more web-savvy and mobile-friendly.
Websites that are responsive to various devices and incorporate other technology-friendly elements, like online bill payment, patient portals, intake forms, and so on, will make it easy for potential patients to learn about your practice and find you online.
Growth Tip #3: Pay Attention to Online Reviews and Complaints
A good review history can bring new patients to your doors, particularly out-of-network patients.
Studies show that 48% of patients would go out of their insurance network for a doctor with favorable reviews.
More so, 82% of patients (in the above linked study) said that they use online reviews to evaluate physicians, and 72% said that they use online reviews as the first step in finding a new doctor.
Online reviews can also be important indicators for areas in need of improvement. If you notice that there are multiple reviews that complain about the same issue, it’s important to pay attention and address the problem.
Practices can also take to social media to address these concerns, which can be another powerful marketing tool for driving new patients to your practice.
More than 40% of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health.
Over 30% of adults have also indicated that they post about their own health-related concerns using social media sites, and 47% of doctors use social media for both professional and personal dissemination of healthcare-related information.
This offers a great opportunity for physicians to respond to questions, comments or concerns online and direct potential patients back to their practice (while remaining HIPAA compliant, of course).
Growth Tip #4: Don’t Neglect Your Office Space
Growth doesn’t just happen online. Your physical office space – waiting room, hallways, offices, patient rooms, and so on – also set the tone for your practice.
Common elements that can affect the in-person patient experience include things like:
- Seating – Patients should not feel cramped or crowded in the waiting room. Chairs should be comfortable to sit in for extended periods of time.
- Entertainment – Is there access to Wi-Fi or computers? Is there a TV or other screens available? Some form of distraction should be provided in the waiting room and patient rooms.
- Lighting – Patients should also have enough light to read or look over paperwork. Natural light can improve the mood of the room, which can calm nervous patients and children.
- Artwork and Paint – Artwork, paint and general décor can also provide a sense of wellbeing. Former NASA scientist Dr. Bill Wolverton found that could significantly improve air quality in small spaces, for example.
- Layout – Is there a child-friendly nook for parents and families? The more space that patients have to spread out, the more comfortable and welcome they will feel.
While a lot of work can be done online to draw patients in to the practice, special care and attention to detail once they’re in the physical environment can go a long way toward retention.
A small investment in appearance can inspire confidence and encourage growth.
Growth Tip #5: Expand Your Services
Finally, if you want to grow, you have to make room for growth to happen. This means that you need to offer the care that patients want, need and expect.
Offering complimentary services, like free screenings, can also help your practice grow and bring in new patients.
If you’re struggling for patient retention, or you find yourself regularly referring patients to other practices, it may be time to consider expanding your services.
If it’s not possible to expand physically, or to hire on new physicians (you’re still trying to grow, after all), you can also consider partnering with other practices or providers for a strategic affiliation.
Practices that specialize in patients with diabetes, for instance, could integrate with practices that specialize in kidney and eye disorder treatment, nutrition, and weight loss.
Centers that specialize in low back pain could partner with organizations that offer a range of services from physical therapy to radiology, orthopedics, and pain management.
Coordinated care can help practices expand their services without increasing expenses, though it’s important to keep in mind that your practice should see growth from any strategic partnership.
If you’re not seeing growth, consider creating in-house options for those services or working with another partner who can add benefit to your practice in some other way.
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The keys to successful growth can be found in both technological and physical aspects of the patient experience.
Practices that stay in tune with IT technology, like EHR, telemedicine, online reviews and responsive websites, can expect to grow in favor with more tech-savvy patients.
Focusing on physical improvements to the practice, whether through comfortable waiting rooms and visitor-friendly offices or an outsourced strategic partnership, can also promote growth in the years to come.