Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Health Care Advisory Board’s National Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the topics that really struck me was the last presentation about the importance of building a consumer-focused organization and increasing consumer loyalty.
We hear so much about the changes to Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance companies that I think it is easy to focus on avoiding the latest penalty or capturing the right metrics in your EMR. In a world where high deductible health plans are becoming more and more common, however, patients are going to think twice about where and how they get their health care, and we must get ready.
We have long referred to those who use our services as patients. It's time to think of them as consumers, too. With so many new competitors entering the market beyond traditional hospitals and health systems, providers will have to continue to find new ways to stay relevant and earn their customers' loyalty.
Here are 4 tips to attract new consumers and keep them loyal:
- Keep things simple for consumers - Patients will appreciate and stay loyal to systems with seamless transitions from scheduling to checking in to paying the bill. The more difficult it is to schedule an appointment or the more frustrating it is to pay the bill, the less likely it is someone will be a repeat customer. Find ways to streamline the process for your patients. In addition, be transparent with your pricing and help patients understand their responsibilities. The days of patients not asking what a procedure will cost them are a thing of the past.
- Go digital – Almost everyone does things by smartphone or computer these days, but not all apps will be helpful for your organization. Include the functions patients truly need – scheduling, finding a doctor, emailing the provider, or accessing their records. Also, make sure your digital platforms are fully integrated with each other and all parts of your system are connected. Keep your patients by giving them the information they want – on your website or from your staff members.
- Create an incentive for loyal customers – Think Kroger Card or Starbucks Rewards, but instead of awarding points based on dollars spent, offer points for good patient behavior like showing up to an appointment on time, paying the bill at point of service or making healthy choices. Also, consider having some kind of membership for patients, which for a monthly or annual fee could perhaps provide discounted access, new technology or enhancements to high-deductible health plans, such as reduced or zero copays. Incentives like these can keep patients loyal and coming back to you when a new need arises. If you can link it all to a digital, easy-to use platform, you’ve got a triple threat.
- Build a trust relationship with your patients – Geisinger Health System has implemented a money-back guarantee to patients who are not satisfied with their experience. Although the health system has paid out refunds, they have found more often that patients opted to submit feedback about their experience, providing Geisinger with valuable insights. There are many things to consider when deciding to implement a program like this, of course, but it is definitely one way to build trust. Another way is to build patient preferences and history into your EMR, including quality metrics, so that patients’ needs are met and they feel a connection to their provider. In addition, offer financial and decision support to your patients by helping them understand when care is truly needed, if they can afford the care, and if others should be involved in their decisions, such as family members or even clergy. Let patients see you as an ally in their care, not just taking their money.
Retailers and other businesses like Amazon and Uber have built huge, loyal customer bases by using similar tactics—simple-to-use, digital platforms with membership options combined with the reliability of their brands. Healthcare entities can borrow their great ideas and put a healthcare spin on them to build loyalty as well. After all, isn’t that what most healthcare missions are about—serving the patient well?
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