Measuring patient perceptions and gauging loyalty are key.
Patient satisfaction that drives loyalty is a critical business issue for today's healthcare practices. Over the years, the marketplace has become much more competitive and consumers are demanding ever-higher levels of service.
But patient-centered care is not just about keeping the patient actively involved in the treatment process. It is also about choice, and it begins the moment the patient contemplates where to receive care.
Patient loyalty can reward a practice with effective word-of-mouth advertising that contributes to reduced costs for acquiring new patients, as well as a long-term revenue stream for the practice. When patient loyalty is increased as little as 5 percent, profits can be increased as much as 25 to 85 percent — the more positive the experience, the more worth or value the patient will feel the service has. All staff members must have reliable skills for patient interactions, and must understand their role in patient retention and improving patient loyalty.
In short, today's practices must be constantly developing individuals and leaders who are focused on the patient. The organization must be aware of what each patient type is looking for from their healthcare provider and be committed to uniting team members in a common vision: to have every patient feel that the quality of care they received was excellent. The goal is to not just meet patients' expectations, but to exceed them.
How do practices accomplish that? Through a concept called engagement communications.
Engagement communications help medical practices not only connect with their patients, but move them to action. This concept blends different forms of technology — such as phone calls, e-mail, text messaging and social media — to create a personal, human touch.
These ongoing, two-way dialogues with patients not only deepen loyalty, but also create a constant feedback loop that gives medical practices deeper insights into their patients' motivations and needs, offering the opportunity to react in real time.
For example, physicians can utilize engagement communications to send pertinent health information and encouraging messages to patients to help them more actively manage their conditions between office visits. Patients with chronic conditions — such as high blood pressure — could receive a series of reminders to renew their prescriptions, as well as regular tips on what foods are best to help keep their blood pressure in check. Patients struggling to quit smoking could be encouraged to enroll in a smoking-cessation program or purchase nicotine patches. Or automated alerts can be sent notifying both the physician and a caregiver when an early stage Alzheimer's sufferer doesn't text or call to confirm they have taken their medication.
Imagine the increased likelihood of treatment compliance if a physician was able to find out at a moment's notice the level of proactive and preventive steps patients are making in their own healthcare. Engagement communications give practices the ability to share tailored one-to-one marketing messages and campaigns in an instant to increase their patient support; campaigns which enable patients to respond and engage in the dialogue.
The technology also enables medical practices to utilize custom patient satisfaction surveys to keep tabs on the overall patient experience with regular two-way communication. The focus is not one-directional customer contact, but two-way engagement.
Additionally, medical practices can utilize engagement communications' automated messaging systems to contact patients with appointment confirmations, as well as helpful suggestions of ways patients can monitor and improve their health between office visits. The messages are delivered with patient-specific content in a natural voice that gives the patients the warm, personal feel of a live call.
Some would argue that these advancements make the patient experience impersonal. It's really quite the opposite. These technologies actually allow medical practices to interact more frequently with their patients, spend more time with patients in the practice and increase the likelihood of a positive patient experience.
Systematically improving patient satisfaction to maximize the number of patients who are fiercely loyal to your practice can mean more reliable revenue and less cost to attract new patients. Engaged patients are more likely to keep their appointments, pay their bills on time and refer the practice to their friends, thus building the loyalty program that keeps current patients coming back.
Scott Zimmerman is president of TeleVox Software.
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