Attracting new patient clientele isn’t always the biggest challenge for healthcare providers.
Often, it’s getting those patients to return – converting first-time visitors into valuable long-term healthcare partnerships that benefit both provider and patient.
Now, more than ever, patients have access to a vast range and variety of healthcare providers. With a digital directory just one Google search away, patients have a huge number of options right at their fingertips.
If your practice has a strong online presence (and it should), this factor can definitely work to your benefit, making it easy for potential patients to find and contact you.
However, “options” can also present a significant challenge: Persuading patients to stick with your practice when they may have the means and the ability to easily try out another healthcare provider in your field.
In reality, non-commitment to a single healthcare provider is all too common. In fact, a recent study showed that 23% of patients have seen three or more primary-care providers in a period of 24 months.
In the long run, this trend proves especially detrimental to patients. When patients switch from provider to provider, they aren’t able to receive the same kind of customized, personal care that’s produced from a long-term healthcare partnership.
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Benefits of a Long-Term Healthcare Partnership
When providers see a patient over a long period of time, they are able to gain valuable insight into patterns, trends, and lifestyle factors that may play into a patient’s physical or mental well-being.
As a result, a long-term healthcare partnership can produce more effective care and healthier rapport between provider and patient.
Not only that, but it can reduce administrative headaches of continually switching providers and transferring medical histories and paperwork.
Clearly, generating long-term partnerships with your patients is hugely beneficial.
The question is, how do you earn loyalty, confidence, and trust that are key to patient retention?
In order to answer this question, you must first ask: What do your patients want from you?
Retention Goes Beyond the Patient-Provider Interaction
The first thing to remember about first-time visitors, or one-time patients, is that they are hoping to have a pleasant visit that will make them want to return to your practice.
And a pleasant visit goes far beyond having a positive experience with their provider.
First-time visitors are sensitive and attuned to “red flags” – especially at the front of office – that could cause them to pursue another option. After all, they haven’t yet invested significant time and resources into their relationship with your practice.
That being said, there are a few key factors that have a significant impact on patient experience (and return rate).
The Front of Office Experience
Your practice’s front-of-office experience has a tremendous impact on the likelihood that a one-time patient will return.
A positive front-of-office experience will:
- Make a friendly first impression. Your staff should be polite and attentive, providing clear directives on wait times and paper or ideally, online, forms.
- Provide a comfortable, quiet space for the first-time visitor to wait.
- Provide clear direction and communication on scheduling a follow-up appointment, and any necessary steps a patient needs to take in the meantime (such as ordering specific medications, preparing for a procedure, or following a provider’s prescribed protocol).
- Communicate clearly about billing and insurance.
On the other hand, if your one-time patients have a negative experience – especially right off the bat – your practice could lose them before they even see their provider.
If your front-of-office staff are rude, unclear in their communication, or make frequent mistakes (over the phone or in person), a first-time visitor may choose not to return to your practice – even if their appointment with their provider was positive.
As you can see, your staff, and especially your receptionist, can make or break your retention rate.
Efficiency and Accuracy
Your first-time visitors want to know that your practice values efficiency and accuracy.
After all, they are trusting you with their health and their private information – Two precious and sensitive commodities that cannot be subject to mistakes.
Mix-ups and miscommunications regarding the private information, history, and appointment schedule of your patients – especially first-time visitors – can severely impact patient retention.
A critical key to persuading first-time visitors to return to your practice is to develop training and protocol for your staff on politeness, privacy, efficiency, and best practices for dealing with challenges or unforeseen disruptions.
Extra Keys to Developing a Long-Term Healthcare Partnership with Patients
Now that you know what’s going to damage your practice’s retention rate, there are several additional keys you can use to “go the extra mile” with your one-time patients.
For example, your out-of-office relationship with your patient base can develop powerful, long-term partnerships that produce higher-quality care and a higher retention rate.
Extra touches out of the office, such as making a phone call to a patient to check on her or his progress, can make the difference between a patient who will visit you once and a patient who will stick with your practice for years.
And, your marketing and follow-up efforts can help you develop an ongoing relationship with patients, even if they only come to your practice once or twice a year.
As mentioned above, a strong online presence can bolster your relationship with your patients. Maintaining and updating social media accounts assures them that you are active in your space, and reminds patients of your expertise. Follow-up emails communicate that you care about patient experience and online surveys show that you value their opinion.
Perhaps the most significant part of a patient’s interaction with your practice out of the office is communication regarding paperwork, their medical history, and private information.
Electronic forms help ensure several key factors to patient retention. They reduce the likelihood of administrative mix-ups, allow patients to fill out necessary paperwork before their appointment (or without coming in to your office), and help protect the privacy of your patients’ data, helping your practice to remain HIPAA compliant.
Not only that, but electronic forms communicate professionalism and technological savvy – improving your reputation and trustworthiness as a practice that values progress and efficiency.
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A Final Word on Long-Term Healthcare Partnerships
You already know that you provide high-quality care to your patients. You listen to their concerns and utilize your expertise to provide them with the help they need.
Make sure that all aspects of your practice match your concern and care for the mental and physical health of your patients, and you’ll see patients that return again and again – developing those valuable long-term healthcare partnerships that benefit both patient and provider.