Patients Are Looking for Retail Experience … And They’ll Switch Providers to Get It
By Tom Giannulli, MD, MS
Like the retail sector, healthcare is in motion. Money talks, and when people aren’t happy they take their money elsewhere. Nearly 60 percent of patients switch physicians because of better service or treatment. Even more striking is that two thirds of patients say they would switch just to get a provider with an EHR and patient portal.
As a result, physicians have to look at how they find and keep patients in a new way. Patients are no longer just patients; they are healthcare consumers. Service, access, and cost all play a role in who they choose for their provider. To adapt to these changing conditions and stay competitive with larger healthcare systems and retail clinics, independent practices need to understand patient expectations and meet them head on.
Today, 60 percent of patients say digital services play an important role when choosing a physician. Specifically, many are interested in having a provider who offers online scheduling, secure online communication, and text and email reminders and recalls. Beyond that, patients are looking online for information, reviews, and resources. Specifically, they are checking you out on social media. Over 40 percent of consumers say that information found via social media affects the way they deal with their health.
A recent survey conducted by Kareo found that practices are taking notice of these trends. Forty-two percent said they were looking to add social media and online reputation management in 2015. In addition, 36 percent were planning to add text or email reminders, and 21 percent were planning to offer online scheduling.
For providers looking to make these changes, there are some basic steps to take to getting these tools in place.
Before looking at new vendors, practices should always look at current solutions. The PM, billing, and EHR software may already have some of these key features or provide an integrated third-party solution. With so much to do, it is easy for staff to miss news about updates and features.
Since 73 percent of patients are more loyal when there is access to a patient portal, this is a good place to start. The EHR may already offer a patient portal, and it might have some of the key features like secure online communication, an appointment request or online scheduling feature, and other beneficial tools like online bill pay. The PM system might also offer email reminders. If these features are not in existing software, providers should ask about integrated practice marketing tools. An existing vendor partnership could mean valuable discounts and time-saving integration.
If a practice can’t get everything through an existing source, here are some tips to get the most from a third party. Look for a single solution that offers many features. It might not be everything, but perhaps the practice can find an option that provides the top three or four features patients most want:
- Forty percent of patients prefer to be contacted online or via text or emails, so a solution that can offer text and email reminders and recalls, as well as options for post-visit follow up like surveys is critical.
- 2. Online scheduling, which over 50 percent of patients think is important, is another key feature. A simple widget on the website can be enough, but this needs to be supported by a good website and SEO so that new patients can find the practice.
- 3. Since two-thirds of patients used online search prior to booking an appointment, patients need to be able to find the practice. A vendor that offers help with website, SEO, social media, and/or reviews and ratings is a must.
Providers should keep in mind that a small investment for these services will pay off in increased revenue as well as patient satisfaction. Reminders can reduce no-shows and last-minute cancellations by 30-50 percent, and online scheduling can help fill empty appointment slots. If the average practice can prevent one no-show and add one new appointment a day, it can increase revenue by up to $50,000 a year.
It is time for providers to start thinking a little more like retailers. Top stores do everything they can to stay connected to their customers, find out what they want, and offer it. It increases satisfaction and loyalty. Practices can do the same by taking advantage of solutions that may already be available or by finding a practice marketing platform that makes up the difference. The payoff will be more than worth the investment.
Tom Giannulli, MD, MS is CMIO at Kareo of Irvine, CA.