As the healthcare industry becomes more competitive, organizations are under mounting pressure to meet the evolving demands of their consumers. In this article, we explore the subject of patient loyalty from the perspective of the healthcare provider—from the benefits it affords organizations to the ways technology can help providers increase loyalty within their patient demographic.
What is patient loyalty?
Similar to consumer loyalty in the retail sector, when a consumer consistently returns to a specific brand to make repeat purchases, patient loyalty is defined by analytics company Gallup as “a patient's likelihood to return to a healthcare facility.”
While we cannot draw direct parallels between retail and healthcare, increasing consumerism in the healthcare industry is forcing providers to rethink their strategies in order to retain the patronage of their patients. Customer loyalty is one area that providers can learn from their retail-industry counterparts in order to drive value for their organization.
In one example from the retail sector, marketing firm SendPulse states, “when a customer is loyal to a specific brand ... they are not actively searching for different suppliers.” If we transfer this idea to the healthcare industry, a loyal patient is not actively looking for other providers; their healthcare organization is the patient’s first thought for all of their healthcare needs.
In the past, the physical location of a health institution was instrumental in gaining and retaining patients. If you wanted to attract new patients, you needed to build clinics where people lived. However, technology is now stretching the boundaries when it comes to accessible care. Using digital solutions, patients can access a wide variety of healthcare services across cities, state lines, or even country borders. As such, nowadays, and perhaps more so in the future, the physical location of an institute plays a less influential role when a patient is choosing a provider. And healthcare organizations that lack digital solutions are at risk of losing their customer base to competitors from further afield.
Why is patient loyalty beneficial to healthcare providers?
A loyal and engaged patient is the best patient. As well as fostering better patient-clinician relationships, a consumer that is repeatedly returning to the same provider is beneficial to that organization in a number of ways, as outlined below.
Predictable and repeat custom
When a patient is loyal to one particular institution, the revenue attached to that patient is more predictable. For example, organizations can forecast the spending of a patient who requires regular appointments or repeat prescriptions. Furthermore, an engaged patient is more likely to return to their provider for check-ups, vaccines, or other preventative care services such as cytology—all culminating in additional revenue for the organization.
In a recent survey, 29% of respondents said friends, family, and coworkers would be their top sources of recommendations when choosing a primary care provider. In this sense, when a patient is confident in their healthcare provider, you can often incorporate care packages for their immediate family members.
With more and more organizations entering the healthcare market, competition in the industry is increasing, and providers now need to compete with multiple organizations to satisfy their patients and retain their patronage. While patient acquisition will play a major part in this, it’s often more cost-effective to retain the customers you already have than to acquire new ones.
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What challenges to patient loyalty do healthcare providers face?
Currently, many providers are stuck in a care delivery model that isn’t dedicated to the full patient journey. They are siloed in their delivery, which makes it difficult to achieve loyalty.
Particularly in the US, the healthcare system is set up to be reactive and respond, which it does really well. Surgeons respond to and treat injuries just as EDs respond to and treat illness, trauma, and other emergencies. Being reactive and responsive is so time-consuming that preventative care and patient engagement slide further down the priority list. Therefore, health systems invest little in the patient experience outside the walls of their facilities unless they are in risk-based arrangements with patient populations.
Private healthcare institutions understand loyalty, and understand how to engage with customers. However, they typically don’t provide the full care journey when complex treatment is required and are siloed in low-acuity or wellness settings.
In this sense, both the healthcare system and private institutions need to take steps in order to provide a convenient and engaging experience that covers the entire healthcare journey.
What patients expect and how technology can help
The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered the way consumers want to experience life, including how they want to interact with healthcare services. It highlighted the role that technology can play in making life more convenient, from remote working to telehealth consultations, and more.
During the pandemic, providers rapidly scaled their telehealth offerings by seeing 50 to 175 times the number of remote patients than they were previously. And consumers want this trend to persist with almost 88% wanting to continue using telehealth for non-urgent consultations after COVID-19 has passed.
Patients now want their healthcare to be as convenient as other services in their lives, and they are demanding the following:
Accessibility—healthcare organizations need to be as accessible as other consumer-facing businesses by offering omnichannel communication in person, on the phone, virtually, asynchronously, socially, and more. By using tools such as chatbots, e-visits, and symptom checkers with digital triage, providers can address patients’ needs by offering convenient access to their services.
Communication—in a recent survey nearly half of patients cited poor communication and having to repeatedly explain their situation to different members of staff as a major issue. Digital intake solutions help to streamline the intake process by gathering patient information prior to the visit. This efficient means of communication allows patients and physicians to prepare for the appointment ahead of time, therefore offering more time during the visit to discuss the patient’s needs and possible treatment plans.
Patient-centered care—according to a Redpoint Global survey, 75% of US consumers wish their healthcare experiences were more personalized. While digital solutions might at first seem contrary to this demand, they can actually be used to foster more personalized care. Wearables, such as watches that track heart rate, exercise, and sleep patterns; apps that store information regarding eating habits; digital thermometers and blood-glucose monitoring devices are all fantastic ways to collect information from your patients, therefore providing the physician with more data to work with in order to offer more personalized care.
Education and involvement—patients want to feel knowledgeable about their condition and health. Digital solutions such as patient education tools can help individuals to feel empowered by their understanding of their health situation and more likely to follow physician advice. In fact, in a recent survey, 43% of physicians stated that well-informed patients had better health outcomes.
If an organization can address all of these needs, it can increase its patient engagement and create a loyal patient base that repeatedly uses its services and has the potential to recommend it to others.
Patient loyalty is a hot topic in the healthcare community. And it’s not difficult to understand why. The benefits to the patient, clinician, and care organization are numerous, from improved patient experience to continuity of care to recurring revenue for providers.
To gain patient loyalty, providers need to offer a service that is convenient to use, easy to access, and affordable. Digital solutions that are engaging for patients, time-saving for clinicians, and that streamline processes for organizations are the next step in creating this environment.