- Building strong patient loyalty has become a key goal in an increasingly competitive healthcare industry. In order to survive amongst the numerous healthcare options on the market, healthcare organizations need to become patients’ trusted partners and their go-to confidante when they fall ill.
That much has always been clear, according to Robert Braithwaite, the CEO of Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian. Healthcare professionals have always known that they must deliver quality clinical outcomes while ensuring patients are satisfied with their care experience.
Whether or not meeting those demands was easy is up to debate, but it has certainly become key in becoming the clinic of choice for sick patients.
“Most of the metric systems that healthcare – the payers, the federal government, providers – have focused on have mostly been about qualitative metrics in the clinical space,” Braithwaite said in a recent interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “Patient outcomes, from a clinical perspective.”
But now there is another factor organizations must add to their laundry lists of healthcare priorities: patient loyalty.
Patient loyalty is the idea of a patient being allegiant to a certain hospital or clinic, always turning to the organization when they are in need of healthcare. Patient loyalty doesn’t necessarily mean having patients turn up week after week or month after month to receive some sort of healthcare. Instead, it refers to the strong relationship an organization has with their patient to become the patient’s trusted healthcare advisor.
“What patients are expecting from healthcare is driving the importance of loyalty,” Braithwaite explained. “They typically have looked at their healthcare as a transactional or episodic type thing; when you need an emergency room visit, or a doctor's office visit. Now, the mindset seems to be shifting, and they want a richer experience, especially considering the investment that they're making.”
With patient financial responsibility rising, patients don’t want to spend their healthcare dollars at just any hospital or clinic; they want to spend their money at the organization that is going to partner with them in their wellness, Braithwaite pointed out.
“Many more patients are looking at their health as their long-term asset,” he said.
Healthcare professionals are looking at patient health as a long-term asset, as well. With value-based care models abound, it is in the best interest for a hospital to keep their patients as healthy as possible for as long as possible at the lowest cost possible.
Part of this will hinge on driving patient loyalty, a deep patient-provider relationship that facilitates patient wellness through longitudinal coaching, screening, and advising.
“That perspective then drives the need to look at the relationship with the patient population, or the consumer, differently than wondering, ‘Hey, did we have the urgent care, was that urgent care visit right, or was that doctor's office right?’ to something more holistic and more longitudinal,” Braithwaite explained.
Braithwaite is well positioned to know about building patient loyalty. He and his team at Hoag were recently honored as one of the top hospitals nationwide based on patient loyalty scores from healthcare consultant group NRC Health.
The rankings found exactly what Braithwaite described, that healthcare organizations with high patient loyalty focus on longitudinal patient relationships that facilitate overall patient wellness.
“When you're looking at it from a longitudinal perspective, you want a deep relationship,” Braithwaite stated. “Organizations must make sure that the patient is not only satisfied, but that there's a deep relationship there. And the deeper you can make that relationship, the better opportunity you have to actually impact that person from a health and wellness perspective. Not only taking care of them in their moments of illness, but a health and wellness perspective.”
Hoag has always placed a heavy emphasis on the service part of their organization, Braithwaite added. Hospital leaders demand a top decile performance in everything their providers do, from care delivery to patient satisfaction.
With that comes a leadership focus on patient loyalty that begins and ends with the community. Hoag leaders aim to have the hospital serve as a pillar in the community for its patients.
“We need to be seen not only as patients’ healthcare provider, but also their healthcare advocate,” Braithwaite asserted. “The place that they go for all of their health and wellness needs, not just when they get sick.”
Hoag’s approach to building patient loyalty is twofold, Braithwaite said. First, providers work to provide the best possible care experience for patients when they do fall ill. Of course, delivering high-quality care and positive outcomes are a given. But same-day appointments and strong care coordination are also essential to Hoag’s goal of exceeding patient expectations of care.
“We'll coordinate a lot of healthcare services on behalf of the patients,” Braithwaite said. “When patients need something, we have lots of navigators that we've embedded into the institution. If somebody's got a complex disease process going on, rather than let them navigate the system on their own, we have navigators that will sit elbow-to-elbow with these people through their course of care. That is really helpful to individuals that might have comorbidities or complex disease processes going on.”
Hoag has also gone deep in the community to build non-traditional healthcare relationships with patients. These efforts are most evident in their connections with their younger, and typically healthier, patient populations. These community connections largely focus on patient wellness.
“How do we maintain patient health and keep them well?” Braithwaite posited. “There's a considerable amount of investment that occurs in that space. We have a very robust education and outreach programs, for the community, for school. We have a tremendous effort in screening programs to engage people in, again, healthy behaviors.”
The organization has also begun conducting genetic screening and counseling to identify patient risk factors and target care plans toward mitigating those risks down the road.
All of these factors combined not only keep patients healthier, but cement Hoag’s place as a healthcare advisor. When a patient who is already healthy receives advice from the hospital about how to stay that way, their loyalty goes up, Braithwaite said.
Developing strong patient loyalty may be among some of healthcare’s next biggest challenges. As more payment models hinge on organizations keeping their healthy patients healthier and mitigating health episode for chronic care patients, this is one challenge they must tackle head on.