You’ve invested more dollars into your marketing strategy. Your digital marketing channels are bringing patients through the door at a steady clip. And yet patient retention remains a struggle. You’re not alone. By some estimates, patients churn at about a 48 percent rate.
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Of course, the patient churn rate will vary from practice to practice. For many organizations, retention isn’t a top concern; you want patients to recover, improve their health, and move on. However, many patients fail to complete treatment programs or they don’t stick around for routine care.
From my professional experience, I’ve seen a couple of factors that seem to make patient retention so challenging.
First and foremost, the consumerization of healthcare has put patients squarely in the driver’s seat. If patients feel like they can get what they want elsewhere at nearly any point along the patient journey, they will probably go find it themselves—on their smartphones.
This power shift is a driving force behind the growth of the consumerization market, which UBS research shows to be increasing at a 5.5 percent CAGR through 2025. Here’s a graphical representation of what that consumerization looks like:
Image Source: UBS
Then there’s the general lack of focus on patient needs outside of treatment. As a patient, it can feel like a massive oversight. Healthcare consumers have needs beyond tooth pulling or back surgery—they want to get test results as soon as possible, make appointments, and message physicians directly. Patient communication is very important.
Of course, these travails of the patient experience are exacerbated by the disparate and disconnected systems that many healthcare organizations use to orchestrate their patient journeys. Typically, a lack of continuity across data and automation leads to a lack of continuity across the patient experience.
From the patient’s perspective, it’s not always a great experience. Perhaps that’s why there’s a tendency for patients to neglect their own care. Many don’t know the best practices for preventative medicine, nor are they willing to make an effort to find out.
It’s no wonder that keeping your patients engaged and coming into the office can be a true struggle. For healthcare providers in this situation, here are the three strategies I recommend for better patient retention:
What opportunities are you giving your patients to leave feedback? Perhaps more importantly, what are you doing to derive insights from that data? Hopefully, your patient feedback program extends beyond an old “suggestions” box collecting dust at the front desk.
If you want to know what’s causing your patients to churn, the best first step is to ask them. Then, focus both your in-office staff and marketing teams on capturing and analyzing patient feedback. Here are the common means of collecting that patient feedback:
- Satisfaction surveys: The idea here is to understand the needs, concerns, and feedback that patients have at critical points in their journey. Send them after appointments or procedures, for example. What could have been better?
- In-visit interviews: You can ask new patients how they found you. Ask existing patients how it’s going and what could be better. When possible, make a note of these in-office exchanges in your electronic health record system and CRM.
- Social media: “Listen” and analyze the feedback and sentiment in your comments, mentions, and overall engagement. Social listening has become a powerful way to gauge brand standing, identify pain points, and capitalize on opportunities to win over—or win back—a patient’s attitude.
- Review channels: Keep tabs on your reputation across Healthgrades, Yelp, Google My Business, Facebook Business, and other review channels. Consider reputation health management software to centralize your monitoring and management of reviews.
- Electronic Health Record (EHR) system: Providers can not only use their EHR to log patient feedback and look for opportunities to improve care but link that data to other marketing systems that can further support retention.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution: Log various forms of patient feedback into the CRM. This data can then be integrated with other tools to measure patient loyalty, identify trends, and more. The idea is to create feedback loops to improve future patient experiences.
There are myriad ways to measure the success of digital marketing. We need KPIs to measure the rate of improvement resulting from our strategies, as well as to focus on future activities. In terms of driving better patient retention, we focus our clients on four essential metrics:
Your patient retention rate (PRR) is a strong indicator of patient satisfaction, the quality of the experience, and how marketing strategy might be optimized to improve this metric. Here’s how we recommend calculating your PRR:
- PE = Number of patients at the end of a period
- PN = Number of new patients acquired during that period
- PS = Number of patients at the start of that period
When measuring PRR, think about the time periods relevant to your healthcare vertical and practice. A physical therapy clinic, for example, might only treat patients for a few sessions after the patient’s injury, while a primary care physician might see patients routinely for many years. Retention means something different in each situation.
Typically, healthcare providers measure churn rate by considering actual visit count against expected visit count. Churn rate is essentially the opposite of retention rate; however, looking at churn rate can provide unique insights into why patients aren’t coming back.
Is there a particular aspect of the journey that’s creating friction? We’ve seen healthcare providers use churn rate metrics to reveal that the leading cause of no-shows was the absence of automated appointment reminders.
Patient lifetime value (PLTV) calculates the average amount of money your customers will spend during their relationship with your practice. To calculate your PLTV, you’ll first need your average patient value (APV), as follows:
With APV in hand, you can determine the average patient’s lifespan and multiply that by the average patient value, which will give you the lifetime value of the patient, as follows:
PLTV can show you opportunities to create additional and ongoing value for patients. Some dentist offices, for example, have created discounted package deals for multiple cleanings. You’re looking for anything that can enrich the patient experience while also generating ongoing revenue.
You can look at the average time between visits for your entire patient base or particular groups or demographics. The time between visits will mean something different for different practices or verticals. A behavioral health group trying to improve retention, for example, might use this metric to find the ideal visit frequency for its most loyal patients.
Finally, use MA to your advantage. Think about how to automate touchpoints and processes to improve efficiency and put your organization top-of-mind for your patients. This might include email campaigns, ad retargeting, or CRM automation. As mentioned before, you can also use automated notifications and reminders to keep in touch (and keep patients showing up).
Continuity is an essential part of strong patient retention, and MA is great for connecting dots along the entire patient journey. Only, it’s unlikely to be successful if you fail to connect data and feedback collection to automation platforms or the resulting analytics to your CRM.
Data-driven automation is all fine and good. But the leaders in healthcare know-how to turn measurement into higher retention rates. One way to do that is to follow the continuous improvement model:
- Plan: Review KPIs periodically and make plans for improved service delivery.
- Do: Deploy the data-backed strategies and tactics you decided on during the planning step.
- Check: Check results based on data and patient feedback, constantly comparing that data against goals or established benchmarks.
- Act: Think about taking the successful patient retention practices further. You might implement them at more locations, for example.
Then it’s time to rinse and repeat, hence the name “continuous.” I’ll add that continuous improvement can be assisted and, to some extent, automated thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
As you can see, there’s a strong connection between patient retention and data-driven automated systems. And while data and automation are now used in many industries to power customer retention programs, healthcare has been slow to adopt. Even for healthcare organizations with certain data and automation solutions in place, some still struggle to bring it all together.
Regardless of the state of patient retention at your own organization, the three strategies above can only help. When you:
- Prioritize the collection and analysis of patient feedback
- Identify and measure core patient retention metrics
- Leverage marketing automation to drive the retention engine
… you’ll build a continuous flow of data-backed insights you can use to improve the patient journey. What better way to show patients you value their patronage and will do what it takes to fulfill their needs?