Cultivating the ability to maintain high rates of patient retention and loyalty has become a top priority for providers, especially as patients face rising out-of-pocket costs and make more careful decisions about how to use their buying power. With patients shopping around for high-quality and cost-effective healthcare, organizations need to show consumers that they are worth the money.
Employing patient engagement strategies may improve patient retention rates. From getting patients in the door to ensuring a quality and cost-effective payment experience, healthcare organizations should be mindful of patient satisfaction and engagement in order to maintain patient loyalty.
Hospital marketing and patient outreach
Getting patients in the door of the hospital is the first step to engaging them and maintaining their loyalty. In an industry steadily shifting toward consumerism, healthcare organizations need to rethink how they engage potential patients through their hospital marketing strategy.
Wake Forest Baptist Health took on this challenge by digitizing their marketing and outreach tools.
“We have had to move out of the mass media as the strongest way to reach folks just because their communication habits and behaviors have completely changed over the past couple of years,” said Jeff House, Assistant Vice President of Marketing at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
The institution transitioned from traditional media outreach – including billboards and radio ads – to digital techniques such as pay-per-click and targeted Facebook and social media posts. These strategies yielded new knowledge of consumer preferences, helping Wake Forest continually engage with their patients.
“We’ve tested eleven different programs so far and we now can understand which products are better suited to a digital platform, and which products are a better blend between some traditional and some digital,” House explained.
Obtaining a better understanding of their consumer base has helped the hospital target their marketing and educational messages to the right patient populations. For example, when House and his team sees a population of patients interacting with messages about diabetes education, they know to continue targeting that outreach to that patient population.
“Customer relationships management is not about what we want to tell them. It’s about what they want to hear,” House asserted. “I think you get respect and you get trust when you value that approach with consumers now digitally.”
Patient satisfaction efforts to improve retention
While ensuring patient satisfaction has a moral imperative, there is also some pragmatism to the concept. When patients are more satisfied with their healthcare, they are more likely to return if they fall ill again and more likely to recommend the practice to friends and family.
According to Joe Greskoviak, President and Chief Operating Officer at Press Ganey, patient satisfaction is fundamentally tied to patient loyalty. When practice leaders keep track of their patient satisfaction levels and online reviews, they can get a better idea of how to grow their community influence.
“Healthcare has become a market share game,” Greskoviak said. “To really be able to survive and thrive in healthcare you have to continue to grow your market share, and the best way to grow your market share is not to lose the market share that you have today.”
According to Greskoviak, patient loyalty boils down to three things: patient-provider communication, provider empathy, and care coordination.
“Patients want to understand that we actually care for them,” he explained. “So our ability to be empathetic in our delivery of care is incredibly important to patients.”
Utilizing quality satisfaction data is critical to improving loyalty, Greskoviak said. When providers use substandard satisfaction data, or don’t use it at all, they may become tone deaf to patient needs and preferences, and run the risk of losing those consumers.
Patient portal implementation
Allowing patients access to their health data and message with their providers through a patient portal may also help improve patient loyalty, engagement, and satisfaction.
In a July poll from Care Cloud, 73 percent of patient respondents said that health record access could help improve satisfaction with their care. Seventy-five percent of respondents expressed interest in prescription refills via the portal, and 61 percent wanted online bill pay capabilities.
Some healthcare organizations have found that when patients are able to access their medical records on their own, they gain more from their healthcare, improving their satisfaction.
“We actually just put out a survey within our patient portal and we have nearly 1,500 responses, so I know what patients are thinking about the portal from their end, and they truly love it as a patient engagement tool,” said Susan Wolver, internist at VCU Health, to PatientEngagementHIT.com.
“In fact, 80 percent of people said that it helps them take better care of themselves. So that’s unbelievable. Eighty-five percent of the people who knew their notes were there are actually looking at their notes.”
Patient portals may also be helpful in improving patient-provider relationships. Through secure direct messaging, patients can communicate with their physicians between care visits. This may be crucial to forging a relationship, especially for patients who are only in the office a few times per year.
According to David Clain, manager at athenaResearch, patients who have a relationship with their providers over the portal are more likely to go back to that provider.
“If you are a patient at primary care practice or you have some cardiac issue and you have an ongoing relationship with a cardiologist, I think it’s really helpful to be able to continue the conversation outside of the office,” Clain explained.
“Once you’ve done that a couple of times, you feel that connection to your provider, you have a sense that they are committed to your health and to ensure that you have good outcomes.”
Patient-centered billing for efficient revenue cycle
Patient payment collection strategies also have implications for patient satisfaction and ultimately patient loyalty. If patients can’t easily manage their out-of-pocket costs, they may not return to the provider for another care encounter.
According to Tabitha Hickerson, CPC, billing department manager at Family Health Care Group of Modesto, patient-centered billing is about valuing patient convenience over practice convenience.
In order to ensure their bill pay methods were convenient for patients, Hickerson and her team adopted digital bill pay software. This system replaced their old procedures of accepting credit card payments over the telephone.
“The biggest goal was just to make things easier for the patient and to automate things a little bit more. Just to streamline and create more efficiency,” Hickerson said.
“We had received quite a few patient complaints – it was difficult to reach us, even when they were calling to make their payments and they didn’t have a question about their bill or anything like that.”
By making the bill pay process easier for patients – users can simply log into a secure account and pay with their credit card or bank information – Family Health Care helped improve practice payments. According to Hickerson, more patients make payments in full and on time now that the practice has online bill pay.
These actions have also helped improve the patient experience.
“For us, letting patients know that we’re willing to work with them on the balance, it provides a sense of compassion to their health and shows them that it’s not all about the money, as important as that is,” Hickerson said.
Hickerson’s digital strategy was likely effective because it catered directly to individual patient needs at her practice. Central Maine Orthopaedics took a similar route, ensuring that their new bill pay strategies would work for their patients specifically.
“[Central Maine Orthopaedics] leadership and staff saw the opportunity to help patients by creating processes that benefited them. They understood the difficulties many of their patients faced in understanding their financial responsibilities,” said Central Maine Orthopaedics’ Supervisor of Revenue Cycle Operations Kathie Phillips in an article coauthored by Navicure’s Jeff Wood.
This was not a one-size-fits-all approach. Through personal conversations with various patients, Central Maine Orthopaedics leaders managed to create a new, online billing system that would work specifically with patient needs.
Ultimately, healthcare organizations will need to offer attractive services in order to maintain patient retention. By offering patient-centered services at all steps of the care encounter – getting the patient in the door, treating the patient, helping the patient pay – they may help improve patient loyalty.