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Want patient loyalty? Give them clarity and transparency

This blog features insights from the Becker’s Hospital Review article, “The Real Reason Loyalty Lacks in Healthcare,” written by Brian Wynne, Vice President and General Manager at NRC Health. To read the original article in its entirety, please see pages 29–32 in the June 2017 issue of Becker’s Hospital Review.

Too many healthcare organizations take patient loyalty for granted.

They confuse loyalty and necessity, believing that if patients need their services, they’ll keep coming back. The core of this strategy: “If you build it, they will come.”

That may have worked in the past. But patients have become sophisticated and discriminating consumers. And these days, if healthcare organizations want to win their loyalty, they need to embrace a consumer-centered approach to care.

The cost of ignoring consumerism

Patients have started to mimic consumers in other industries. Just as with hotels or restaurants, the Internet has given patients the ability to comparison-shop between healthcare providers.

Their expectations have also risen in step with care costs, and they have a broader view of value-for-money in healthcare. Medical expertise alone won’t compel them to stay with a facility. Today’s patients also want courtesy, compassion, and user-friendly access to care.

Empowered patients will walk away when providers don’t meet their expectations. 7% of consumers switch providers after just one subpar experience. Since each patient brings $1.4 million in value to a hospital over their lifetime, this loss can add up quickly. For many hospitals, that rate of attrition can cost up to $100 million every year.

Why patients walk away

And if anything, that 7% figure understates the problem.

The truth is, most healthcare organizations don’t get the care experience right. 81% of customers report feeling unsatisfied with their healthcare experiences.

That’s a sobering statistic.

The frustration comes from the strong emotions that weigh on patients as they make healthcare decisions. Illness and pain come with anxiety and suspense. And unfortunately, when they deal with providers, they have to wrestle with another terrible feeling: confusion.

Research shows that almost all patients feel confused as they look for a provider. The obscure costs and the bewildering layers of bureaucracy make patients feel lost.

So few organizations ask their customers, “How can we make this less confusing for you?” or, “What would make this easier?”

If organizations ask patients these questions, they can bring clarity to the care experience.

What it takes to bring customers back

The graph below tells a shocking story:

It shows the rise of retail mini-clinic use at stores like Walgreens or CVS. 30 years ago, no one predicted that nearly 30% of Americans would choose Walgreens for their care. So what changed?

The big health retailers succeeded because they figured out what their customers wanted, and they delivered it. They made the care process easy, offering totally transparent information to their patients.

Patients have voted with their feet. Retail mini-clinics are here to stay.

Start the conversation

Traditional providers should heed their example.

It’s time to assess how you bring clarity to your customers.

You should take note of every interaction a patient has with your organization. That includes visits to your web page, phone calls, follow-up appointments, everything—not just what happens in an exam room.

How accessible is your healthcare system? How transparent are your costs? Can patients find quality and feedback information? How do you make the care process easy?

A continuous conversation with patients will help you answer these questions.

To get feedback at all these touchpoints, healthcare organizations must provide consumers with the chance to tell their own stories. They need a reliable mechanism to hear their patients, every step of the way.

By collecting this feedback, organizations will have data they can use to make meaningful changes. Even better, patients will feel heard and understood—a crucial step toward building loyalty.

Loyal customers will reward you

Loyal healthcare customers can be invaluable to healthcare organizations. If they feel a true sense of belonging, they’ll choose a single health brand for every aspect of their care.

They won’t just bring revenues. They’ll also enthusiastically participate in the healthcare process, and their trust will make them eager to follow their provider’s advice. That means a better relationship and better outcomes.

And all of this starts with a bedrock understanding of your patients’ wants, needs, and expectations.

If building loyalty is a strategic initiative at your organization—and it should be—you must strive to listen to them.

If you hear them, they will come.