Elevating Patient Engagement to Increase Retention
The once-solid bonds between providers and patients are dissolving. The breakup has been in the works a long time, but it’s accelerating. Patients, restless and newly empowered after decades of being taken for granted, are looking for more convenience from their healthcare providers and are willing to look elsewhere to get it. Providers are left wondering what they can do to attract new patients and retain their existing ones.
While some healthcare systems are responding to the loss of patients with multimillion dollar advertising campaigns, there are doubts about how well those work. According to a report from healthcare consulting firm Press Ganey, patients are five times more likely to select a practice because they had a positive experience there, negating the effect of extensive marketing. Plus, brand loyalty is weakening, along with patient ties to individual providers. According to NRC Health, the number of consumers who are indifferent to health system brands rose from 31% in 2018 to 36% in 2021.
Primary care decentralization
Patient loyalty has been weakening for decades, initially due to healthcare changes that gave patients less choice in their providers and worsened their experiences. More recently, however, the shift has been wrought by digital technology and the new capabilities it offers patients, giving them more control over how they interact with providers, even the choice of what type of provider to see and where. As a result, patients are more open than ever to receiving healthcare from different providers and in different settings.
Consider the findings of a 2023 Wolters Kluwer Health survey of American healthcare consumers:
- 58% of Americans are likely to visit a local pharmacy as a first step to treat a non-emergency medical issue
- 81% of survey respondents say they trust a pharmacist, nurse, or nurse practitioner to diagnose minor illnesses and prescribe medications to treat them
- More than half of Gen Z and Millennials (56% and 54% respectively) have received care at a local pharmacy in the past year, compared to 40% of Gen X and 35% of Boomers
Providing convenience, retaining patients
The reasons why patients remain with providers vary. Providers might like to attribute retention to patient satisfaction with the care provided, a personal bond, even trust and gratitude, but the primary reasons might be more pragmatic. The patient might remain simply out of habit or because they haven’t yet found a more convenient alternative – and that’s an awfully fragile foundation upon which to rely.
At the risk of being obvious, the best way for a practice to prevent patients from leaving for a more convenient alternative is to be the most convenient option that delivers the best patient experience. That takes many forms, from minimizing wait times for appointments and allowing online scheduling, to accepting online payments and providing easy access to medical records.
Among the other features patients want:
- Convenient communication methods, such as texting
- Quick answers to their health-related questions
- Educational information to better understand and manage their health
- Staying connected to providers and receiving guidance between visits
- Timely reminders for appointments, self-care, or medication adherence
- Easy-to-use virtual care
These and other digital, patient-facing technologies integrated into a well-designed and easy-to-use patient engagement platform invite patients to become more engaged, not only with their provider, but with their healthcare, which can lead to better outcomes and increased loyalty.
A patient-centric mindset
Providers shouldn’t look upon this as a burden, but as an opportunity to create more active patients, ones who are more likely to listen to their them and better manage their own healthcare through such things as preventive care and regular exercise.
The more engaged a patient is with a provider, the more likely he or she is to stay, due to increased satisfaction, better experiences, and improved outcomes. Patients become participants and partners in decisions about their care.
Recognizing and responding to this new emphasis on patient engagement isn’t easy. It requires providers to abandon a long-held model of healthcare with clinicians squarely at the center in favor of one in which the patients are in charge – and easily lost – if their wishes are not met.
But other industries, notably retail, have done it and healthcare providers would be wise to heed their example. Retailers like CVS, Amazon and Walmart are bringing these customer-centric practices to healthcare and providers who don’t offer something comparable will be left behind. The tools to make the transition already exist; providers just need to use them.
Photo: mathisworks, Getty Images