7 Steps to Improve Patient Retention

Depending on whom you ask, it costs between four and 10 times more to acquire a new customer—or, in the case of a medical practice, a new patient—than it does to keep an existing one. The precise cost matters less than the simple fact that it’s much more expensive to attract new patients than to keep you current patients, happy. A well-run business knows that it cannot afford to take established relationships for granted. With that in mind, here are seven ways to keep your patients coming back.

1. Every point of contact matters: The patient/provider relationship may be primary, but every potential point of contact—from the front desk to the back office, and everything in between—can affect the patient’s impression of the practice. Insist on a culture of professionalism and respect for patients. Everyone within the practice, no matter how busy one may be, should treat patients the primary responsibility of the job, not an interruption or intrusion.

Be mindful, as well, of the referrals you give. If patients have a bad experience at a practice or facility to which you’ve referred them, it reflects poorly on you, as well.

2. Take the time to listen: Do everything possible to avoid making patients feel rushed. The provider/patient relationship is uniquely personal; if the provider doesn’t take time to hear a patient out, he or she will feel slighted and uncared for. Listen carefully when patients share their concerns, even if an issue seems trivial, or out of your control.

3. Anticipate problems: Keep a step ahead of issues that could affect patient retention. If, for example, you have many patients who are employees of a particular company, and that company’s insurance plan is about to change, a proactive strategy can have a big impact on patient retention.

4. Stay on schedule: It can be a huge challenge, but staying on schedule (or close to it) is a major factor in patient retention—perhaps one of the biggest. Patients perceive a message of “indifference” and lack of respect for their time if they frequently experience long wait times.

5. Confirm appointments in advance: Reminding patients the day before an appointment is good business, and lets them know that you respect their schedule. Additionally, reach out to individuals who have missed an appointment, or who were expected to return and did not. A brief, simple reminder may be all that is needed.

6. Establish a system to schedule the next appointment: Usually, the best time to do this is at the end of the current appointment. Review your recall routine to be sure the process is proactive, and includes multiple contacts.

7. Survey your patient base: If you have a high attrition rate, there are probably reasons for it. Patients who leave a practice usually do so without notice or explanation. Often, patients will leave because, in their estimation, the provider or practice has treated them poorly or failed to value them. Do whatever you can to discover the problems, and work on solutions.

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John Verhovshek

John Verhovshek

John Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is Managing Editor at AAPC. He has covered medical coding and billing, healthcare policy, and the business of medicine since 1999. He is an alumnus of York College of Pennsylvania and Clemson University, and a member of the Asheville-Hendersonville AAPC Local Chapter.
John Verhovshek

About Has 402 Posts

John Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is Managing Editor at AAPC. He has covered medical coding and billing, healthcare policy, and the business of medicine since 1999. He is an alumnus of York College of Pennsylvania and Clemson University, and a member of the Asheville-Hendersonville AAPC Local Chapter.

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