Illustration of a patient on top of a graph with an upward arrow“Patient retention” is the term used in healthcare marketing to refer to the idea of keeping your patients happy, loyal and coming back — as opposed to “patient attrition,” which is when they slip away. Some patient attrition is normal, of course, but keeping the patients you already have is both simpler and harder than you think.

Why patients leave: Perceived indifference

I’ve left more than one healthcare provider at the healthcare altar in my time. The most common reason? Not malpractice or a big snafu, but that my doctor was in a big rush, didn’t introduce themselves, didn’t explain what they were doing or didn’t listen carefully to my concerns. In short, I left because I felt like they didn’t care about me.

As a result, I didn’t get on social media and give them a negative review, but I didn’t go back either. I disappeared without a word, reasoning: There is more than one dermatologist or orthodontist or primary care physician in the doctor sea.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my ways. According to research by the Peppers & Rogers Group, 60% of people who take their business elsewhere do so because they perceive an attitude of indifference. Furthermore, according to 1st Financial Training Services, 96% of unhappy customers do not complain, and 91% simply leave and never come back.

For your medical practice or healthcare organization, that could add up to a lot of lost patients you don’t even notice.

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The value of patient retention

Losing patients is bad for your bottom line — in both lost revenue from the AWOL patient and lost potential revenue from word-of-mouth referrals. While unhappy patients may not complain to your office, they will certainly voice their negative opinions to their friends.

It’s worth noting that NOT losing the patients you already have is worth more than trying to attract brand-new patients to replace the lost ones. Consider these statistics:

So — apart from genuine quality issues — if most patients leave because they perceive you don’t care about them, it literally pays to let your patients know you do care.

Communication is the key.

Patient retention strategies

Here are five ways you or your organization can improve communication and patient retention. The first one is the most important.

1. Bedside manner

In addition to seeking a diagnosis and treatment for a health issue, patients come to doctors for reassurance. Feeling sick can be unsettling and scary, but even routine care like a dental cleaning or a screening mammogram can feel uncomfortable and invasive.

It may be just another day in the clinic for you, but it’s not for the patient. From the phone answering service and the front desk to the nurses and doctors providing care, everyone has a role in creating a welcoming atmosphere where every patient is a person who matters.

Introduce yourself warmly. Take the time to listen to the patient’s complaints and questions. Explain everything you’re doing and why. If someone else needs to be in the room (to take notes, for example), explain who they are. Pause at the door before you leave to look the patient in the eye and wish them well. Provide the patient with a written after-visit summary they can take home and review later.

Taking the time to get to know your patients can even be a matter of life and death, as illustrated by the case of one patient who suffered for years from a mysterious and ultimately deadly lung ailment. The cause of his disease was eventually traced to his bagpipe hobby.

Knowing these personal details can provide vital clues you need to give better care — and it helps form a bond that results in trust and loyalty. Your office may be providing top-notch medical service in the clinical sense, but if the patient feels unheard, they may leave to find their top-notch medical service somewhere else.

2. Patient reminders

While the most important communication generally takes place in the doctor’s office, it’s easier than ever to connect with patients outside the office through email and text messages.

One simple gesture is sending reminders about upcoming appointments or scheduling annual wellness screenings. It’s a great way to stay top-of-mind with patients and provide a helpful service. For extra convenience, include the address on appointment reminders so patients can click for GPS directions to your office if they need it.

In addition to practical reminders, you can generate goodwill by sending birthday emails to patients. It’s another avenue to show you care and express that you appreciate their trust in your organization.

3. Wellness content

Offering information, resources and advice on how consumers can stay healthy is a way to stay engaged with patients when they don’t need healthcare services.

Topics could include wellness education as well as updates and recommendations regarding COVID-19. Regular blog postings, email newsletters or podcasts can position your healthcare organization as a trusted resource of information — and remind patients that they can turn to you whenever your expertise is needed.

4. Social media

Roughly 81% of the U.S. population has a social media profile. A regular presence on social media offers your healthcare organization a big opportunity to connect with consumers through engaging, educational and entertaining content.

Posts can range from informative — promoting wellness blogs or sharing important information about your organization — to simple relationship-building, such as sharing humor, feel-good stories and day-in-the-life photos.

5. A good website

A great website is an important part of any business. And a subpar website can actually chase people away. Whether you’re part of a small private practice or a big health system, your healthcare website may well be a patient’s first impression. It performs many humble but essential functions for your patients that can make or break their relationship with your office.

That’s why it’s important to keep phone numbers, addresses and office hours up to date. It needs to be easy to navigate and find things like patient forms. Patients rely on the functionality of your website when it comes to paying bills online, submitting online forms and scheduling appointments.

A professional and seamless web experience prevents patients from getting frustrated. If your website doesn’t work well, loads slowly, is out of date or doesn’t have the information your patients are looking for, it can contribute to the perception that your organization is unprofessional or doesn’t care.

In addition, your website is an opportunity to showcase your empathy, expertise, care philosophy and approachability — including smiling provider photos and informative bios. When your happy patient tells their neighbor about the awesome experience they had at your practice, the first place that neighbor will go to learn more is likely your website. What they do next could be determined by the strength (or weakness) of your web content.

Don’t lose another patient because they think you don’t care. Building loyalty and trust with your patients goes beyond excellent clinical skills — it includes your warm bedside manner and communicating your care outside the office, too.

Lean on a trusted content partner to strengthen your patient retention strategy. The healthcare writers and content strategists at WriterGirl can help you craft content and messaging that resonates with your audience. Contact us any time to learn more.