A Guide to Patient Retention and How Telehealth Can Help

by | Mar 27, 2023 | Blog

This article was originally published in December 2019 and was updated in March 2023.

As patient retention is a measurement of your ability to keep patients loyal to your healthcare organization, it is important for the bottom line of your practice as well as the longevity and reputation of your service.

Maintaining your existing patients is a vital component of operating a successful and profitable healthcare practice. Throughout the entire care continuum, patients build a positive, negative, or neutral relationship with a practice. Along the way, there are multiple touchpoints (or opportunities) to make sure they have a great experience and want to return for multiple visits.

If you’re struggling to understand how to increase patient retention, here is everything you need to know.

Patient Retention Impacts Your Bottom Line

It’s widely known that it costs more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one. The same applies to healthcare, though circumstances do differ slightly from general business. According to an older study, by increasing patient retention by 5%, profits have the potential to increase by 25% to 95%. Even in the midst of the pandemic, an academic health system improved retention and increased its revenue by more than $25 million. Existing patients are more likely to demonstrate loyalty to your practice, a quality that becomes very lucrative over time.

While the best practices for retaining patients aren’t identical to those for retaining commercial consumers, both have the power to influence where people choose to receive service or care. Patients need healthcare services — some more frequently than others — but they usually get to choose between multiple medical practices.

Patients are demanding that healthcare providers improve their customer service in every way. As a result, practices are embracing technologies like telehealth, which enable them to take a more patient-centered approach. As already proven through the last three years of drastic change, telehealth has improved patient engagement, outcomes, and retention.

When patients are loyal to one practice, they trust their healthcare providers and are more willing to schedule an appointment with them for routine and immediate care. Because long-term patients are more likely to act upon recommendations from their trusted practitioners, they’re also more likely to stay within the same organization for additional outpatient services.

Additionally, growing rates allow organizations to reduce their marketing costs. Word-of-mouth marketing and strong social media presences help maintain connections with current patients and establish contact with potential ones. You can then use these savings to improve factors that positively affect patient retention rates, encouraging sustainable growth.

In fact, when patient retention increases by 2%, it’s the same as decreasing costs by 10%. Even small gains in patient retention can have significant, positive financial impacts on your practice.

How to Calculate Your Patient Retention Rate

To calculate patient retention rates, hospitals can, for the most part, use the same formula that businesses use to calculate customer-retention rates.

Here is the formula in its entirety:

Patient retention rate = (# of patients at the end of the period – # of patients acquired during the period) / # of patients at the start of the period) x 100

Ideally, this rate reveals how successful a practice is at satisfying existing patients and ensuring their loyalty.

For healthcare, there are many other factors that contribute to overall patient retention rates. The way patients engage with your practice depends on their immediate and long-term needs. Some may only go for annual checkups, but others may require frequent care or simply be more inclined to seek an appointment for common illnesses.

The patient attrition rate, or churn rate, measures the rate at which your patients are no longer interacting with you. In healthcare, it fluctuates for several reasons. Patients may change residences, need different specialized care, or no longer require frequent care. In many cases, these factors can be addressed by telemedicine or telehealth services, which grant patients more flexibility in how they pursue and receive care.

Healthcare providers that wish to increase patient retention and minimize churn rate should focus their attention on value-based care models and departments or specialties that would benefit from telehealth. Such areas might include patients that require pre- and post-procedure appointments, follow-up specialty visits, chronic disease management, etc.

Telemedicine allows physicians to deliver quality patient care even at a distance.

Physician speaking with patient

Patient Retention Strategies

Improving on the aforementioned factors will no doubt help your practice with its patient retention rate. But with several different contributing touchpoints, it can feel overwhelming to change all of them. Luckily, there have been advancements in healthcare and technology that allow you to make improvements across the board.

Telemedicine, also referred to as telehealth or e-health, uses digital tools and broadband technology that allow healthcare professionals to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients from any location. By leveraging telehealth services, healthcare organizations increase their patients’ access to care and provide multiple care touchpoints. In turn, this improves patient retention rates.

Virtual visits can augment or complement physical visits. Telemedicine platforms like AGNES Connect allow healthcare organizations to utilize their own providers to address conditions on the spot. Patients don’t have to wait for appointments or travel long distances to see specialists. This also allows local practitioners to consult with their peers and clinical experts more easily.

Patients are also becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of telemedicine. According to research from J.D. Power, 94% of patients who tried telehealth in 2022 will likely use virtual consultations in the future. They cited convenience and the ability to receive quick care as the top reasons for using telehealth.

Of course, telemedicine and other healthcare technologies take practice and time to implement properly. Before implementing a telemedicine and telehealth strategy to improve patient retention, put yourself in your patients’ shoes to gain perspective on their situations. You should also take a close look at retention and attrition rates to pinpoint areas or departments that need improvement. Hold training sessions on any new technologies so that both your practitioners and your patients receive maximum benefits from your investments.

To ensure patients continue to receive care at the same practice, health professionals and businesses that offer health services should reevaluate some of the common factors that affect patient retention. When implemented correctly, telehealth and telemedicine can help your practice improve the patient experience and retention rate.

Telehealth Can Improve Common Factors That Affect Patient Retention

Patient retention strategies will naturally vary from practice to practice, but telemedicine is a flexible system that can help improve most of the major patient points of contact that influence their overall experience with your practice. Start by evaluating your own practice needs, put a plan in place, and focus on improvements that are sustainable and measurable.

Waiting rooms: First impressions are important, especially in the healthcare industry. A waiting room is the start of the patient experience. Discomfort in this stage could negatively affect your patients’ entire experience and motivate them to seek care elsewhere.

When your organization utilizes telehealth, you can deliver care to patients where they are most comfortable, whether that be in their own home, at work, or at a local community clinic. Healthcare providers can increase patient satisfaction and expand their patient base, while self-insured employers can connect employees with doctors anytime, anywhere. This can take out the stress of travel and enhance the patient’s overall experience.

Technology: Technology in healthcare should increase a patient’s access to care and improve care delivery models, not hinder them. Complicated or unreliable technology can slow down clinical workflows and discourage patient engagement. Leveraging the right technology makes it easy for patients to receive care and not miss appointments.

By offering telehealth options for virtual care visits, you make appointments much more convenient for patients. Telehealth platforms provide rural populations with immediate access to specialty care, allowing them to connect with remote specialists for quick video consultations.

Patient feedback: A negative experience doesn’t always mean the end of a patient-practice relationship. In fact, the patients who provide feedback — both positive and negative — are far more beneficial to your practice than those who disappear without a trace. Patients who complain still trust your practice; they want things to improve because they prefer your care and don’t want to go elsewhere.

The feedback from patients on telehealth visits has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, according to McKinsey research, about 55% of patients claimed that they were more satisfied with their virtual care visits than with in-person appointments.

When Can You Expect to See Results From Telehealth?

By improving the patient experience and overall workflow processes, telehealth can positively impact your organization’s bottom line.

However, the immediate ROI from implementing telehealth or telemedicine is not about cost savings, and it can take a few years to build. The true ROI varies dramatically by organizational size, nature, clinical capacity, and payment model. You may experience only a modest increase in revenue during the first year of telehealth implementation but later see a significant improvement in patient retention. In the long run, improved patient retention will result in increased financial benefits for additional services.

Just as every patient requires individualized care, there is no one-size-fits-all model for evaluating telehealth. The American Medical Association recommends the following framework to evaluate the potential virtual care ROI:

• Type of practice
• Payment arrangement
• Clinical use case
• Virtual care modality
• Social determinants of health of the patient population

Patient retention is key to the success of telehealth in your organization. Consider each component of this framework to evaluate the benefits of implementing telehealth services as they relate to your organization’s capabilities and needs.

As patients and practitioners become more accustomed to using telehealth and telemedicine technologies, it’s likely that your organization will see its benefits accumulate faster. Continue to educate both patients and staff on the perks and intricacies of the system to achieve the best results.

Improve Patient Retention With AMD Global Telemedicine

AMD Global Telemedicine provides a telehealth platform, specialized medical devices, and point-of-care solutions that are designed to help physicians and specialists provide care across the virtual care continuum.

Because telehealth can increase touchpoints and improve patient satisfaction, its implementation should boost patient retention rates.

Download our free e-book, “The New Normal with Telehealth” to learn more about the business value of telemedicine at your healthcare organization.

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