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How to Keep Your Patients Coming Back: A Guide to Patient Retention

Dec 16, 2019 | Telemedicine Blog

Patient retention is a vital component of operating a successful and profitable healthcare practice. Throughout the entire care continuum, patients are building a positive, negative or even neutral relationship with your business. There are multiple touch points along the way which determine how likely a patient is to continue receiving care from their current practice or leave seeking a different experience from a competitor.

In many cases, there is no one defining moment or aspect that affects patient retention the most, so your organization must be vigilant in improving and monitoring all contributing factors. Keeping your patients coming back is not only important for the bottom line of your practice, but it contributes to the longevity and reputation of your service. If you’re struggling with how to boost patient retention, here is everything you need to know.

The importance of patient retention

It’s widely known that it costs more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing customer. The same applies for healthcare, though circumstances do differ slightly from general business. Overall, Practice Builders reported that practices waste 7 times the resources (especially money and time) converting a lead into a patient as opposed to retaining a current client.

Of course, some of the best practices of retaining patients differ from methods of retaining commercial consumers, but both have the power to choose where they receive service or care. Patients no doubt need healthcare services, some more frequently than others, but depending on their location, there can be multiple medical practices to choose from.

“a 2% increase in patient retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%”

Patients are demanding improved customer service from their healthcare providers in everything from communications to scheduling. This is leading practices to embrace technologies like telehealth, that enable them to take a patient-centered approach, all in the hopes of improving patient retention rates and engagement levels.

When patients are loyal to one practice, they trust their healthcare providers and are more willing to schedule an appointment with them for routine or immediate care. A long-term patient is more likely to act upon the recommendations from their trusted practitioner, meaning a patient will stay within the same organization for additional outpatient services.

Additionally, your organization can reduce their marketing costs as retention grows. Word-of-mouth marketing and a strong social media presence can help maintain contact with current and potential patients, but there is less need to acquire new leads than when relying on other outreach methods. These savings can be directed toward improving factors that positively affect patient retention rates for sustainable growth.

In fact, a 2% increase in patient retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10%, according to Practice Builders. Even small gains in patient retention can have significant, positive financial impacts for your practice.

Retention rates: Everything you need to know

There is a common formula that businesses use to calculate their retention rates that, to an extent, can be applied to the healthcare industry.

HubSpot provided the calculation in its entirety:

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

Ideally, this rate shows how successful a practice has been at satisfying its existing patients so they remain loyal to the business.

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

The patient attrition rate or churn rate, which measures the rate at which your patients are no longer interacting with you, fluctuates for much more common reasons in healthcare. Patients may move, need different specialized care or may no longer need frequent care. All of this can affect a churn rate, but in many cases can be addressed by offering telemedicine or telehealth services to their patients. This way, patients can still engage with your practice, just in a different way.

If a healthcare provider is looking to increase patient retention and minimize their church rate, they may want to focus their calculations on certain departments or specialties that could benefit from the use of telehealth. Additionally, understanding how often a patient needs or voluntarily visits a clinic can better gauge if a gap in involvement is a normal behavior or a sign they no longer want or need the services.

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

Telehealth can improve the common factors that affect patient retention

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.

Waiting rooms: First impressions are important, especially for healthcare. A welcoming waiting room is the start of the patient experience. If a patient is uncomfortable from the start, it can leave a negative impression on their overall experience and may motivate them to find a different practice.

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 a local community clinic. Healthcare providers can increase patient satisfaction and expand their patient base, while self-insured employers are able to connect employees with doctors anytime, anywhere. This can take out the stress of travel and enhance the patient’s overall experience.

Technology use: Technology in healthcare should be utilized to 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 deter patients from being engaged. Leveraging the right technology is an important tool to make it easy for patients to receive care and not miss appointments.

Offering the option for virtual care visits to patients, through the use of telehealth technology, makes it a more convenient option for patients to receive care on demand or for follow up appointments. Telehealth platforms provide immediate access to specialty care for rural populations so patients can connect with a remote specialist for a quick video consult.

Patient feedback: One negative experience does not 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.

If a practice resolves complaints and implements sustainable improvements almost 70% of complaining patients will stick with their current practice, reported Practice Builders. If a patient complains, they still trust your practice and are voicing their concern in your best interests.

The feedback from patients on telehealth versus face-to-face visits has been nothing but positive. According to a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 90% of telehealth patients preferred the virtual consult in place of a face-to-face visit because it was more convenient for them.

Patient retention strategies

Improving on the aforementioned factors will no doubt help a practice with its patient retention rate, but with multiple, different contributing touch points, it can feel overwhelming to try to change all of them. Luckily, there have been modern advancements in healthcare and technology that allow practices to make improvements across the board.

Telemedicine, also referred to as telehealth or e-health, allows healthcare professionals to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients from any location using digital tools and broadband technology. By leveraging telehealth services, healthcare organizations are increasing their patient’s access to care and providing multiple care touch points, which in turn helps improve their patient retention rates.

Virtual visits can replace or complement physical visits so patients can receive quality care in a convenient, comfortable setting. Telemedicine platforms like OnDemand Visit and AGNES Connect, allow healthcare organizations to utilize their own providers to address conditions on the spot, without requiring a patient to wait for an appointment, or facing the challenges of traveling long distances to see a specialist.

This is not only convenient for patients, but it also allows local practitioners to consult with their peers and clinical experts when needed. This empowers healthcare organizations to make improvements, cut costs and invest in upgrading their telemedicine infrastructure in the interests of their patients.

Patients are also becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of telemedicine. In fact, in a Virtual Visits Consumer Choice Study conducted by the Advisory Board, 77% of patients expressed interest in utilizing telehealth.

telemedicine is a flexible system that can help improve most of the major patient points”  

Of course, telemedicine and other healthcare IT 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 situation. This is also where taking a closer look at retention and attrition rates can help pinpoint areas or departments that need improvement. Hold training sessions on any new technologies so both your practitioners and patients will receive maximum benefits from your investments.

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.

When can you expect to see results from telehealth?

As you can see, telehealth has the potential to positively impact your organization’s bottom line by improving the patient experience and overall workflow processes.

The ROI from implementing telehealth or telemedicine is not about the cost savings, and it can take a few years to build. The true ROI and payoff can vary dramatically based on the size, nature, clinical capacity and payment model of your organization. You may experience only a modest increase in revenue during the first year of telehealth implementation, but see a significant improvement in patient retention. In the long run, improved patient retention will translate to increasing financial benefits for additional services now and for years to come.

Just like each patient requires different care, there is no one-size-fits-all model for evaluating telehealth ROI. Manatt Health recommends each organization consider the following questions when evaluating the potential telehealth ROI:

  • Patient acuity mix
  • Cost savings
  • New-patient volume
  • Patient retention
  • Reimbursement
  • Technology
  • Management
  • Staff

Patient retention is a key component for determining the success of telehealth in your organization. Consider each component of this framework to evaluate the benefits of implementing telehealth services in comparison 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 the benefits accumulate faster. Continue to educate both patients and staff on the intricacies and benefits of the system to see the best results.

Improve patient retention with AMD Global Telemedicine

AMD Global Telemedicine provides a direct-to-consumer portal, encounter management softwaretelemedicine carts and systems and specialized medical devices that are designed to help physicians and specialists provide care across the virtual care continuum.

Telehealth can increase touch points and keep patients satisfied to improve patient retention rates. Lean more about how AMD Global Telemedicine can improve patient engagement and retention for your facility today.

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