First Impressions... Equally Important in Creating Patient Loyalty as the Care Experience?

We can all agree strong patient loyalty has value. Loyalty is a measure of trust. Patients trust you with their own care so much that, not only do they return, they tell friends and family to go there too. And loyalty translates to strong financial health.

Unfortunately, a significant amount of focus in healthcare centers on patient satisfaction. The data says that satisfied patients don’t automatically translate into loyal patients. According to recent research from NRC Health, 78% of patients surveyed were satisfied with their care. Of these same patients, 80% of them also revealed that they would switch providers based purely on convenience.

So how do we define convenience? Other than the obvious answer of location? What is not so obvious about convenience, but nonetheless impactful with respect to creating loyalty? Perform a Google search and the results point to top consumer priorities such as appointment availability and online self-service, which role up into the Patient Access engagement efforts of pre-registration and registration. It’s all about making a first impression. While a good first impression alone is not likely to make or break satisfaction, the impact to loyalty must be considered. In fact, if convenience matters as much as the data says it does, the first impression is critical in creating loyalty.

So, what can you do to demonstrate genuine convenience and thereby help activate loyal patients? Here are 3 things to consider:

1) MAKE AN OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS OF YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION…FROM THE OUTSIDE IN.

Long before a patient enters your facility to receive care, they likely have otherwise engaged with your organization via phone and/or digitally. If they are scheduling, inquiring about prices or wait times, or pre-registering, what does that experience feel like from a convenience perspective? Is it easy to engage from the comfort of their iPhone? Can they easily find the appropriate entry point? And go beyond your HCAHPS results. Build off of that survey by inviting a panel of real patients and non-patients in the community to participate in patient experience focus group.

2) EMPOWER YOUR PATIENTS WITH TECHNOLOGY IN THEIR POCKET.

In the era of ubiquitous mobile technology, patients want to feel empowered to take charge of their care. We live in a world where healthcare consumerism is evolving to give enable patients to become fully involved in their healthcare decisions whether it be pricing transparency, provider quality benchmarking or consumer insights.  By embracing the idea that patients want to be empowered, you can connect more deeply with them and streamline both the onboarding and payment processes. Allowing a patient to electronically self-register (again from the comfort of their iPhone), there will be a significant reduction in the number of errors related to patient registration and reduction in wait times. The benefit is mutual. The patient feels more in control of their experience, and your organization will use less resources correcting registration errors.

3) YES, THE CARE EXPERIENCE STILL MATTERS. BRING IT ALL TOGETHER.

While the headline in this piece may be a bit provocative, it is a fair question. In the end, the whole patient experience matters. It’s not enough to be bad at first impressions of pre-registration and registration and be good at care. Creating customer loyalty means combining the ideas of first impressions and exemplary care to provide the ultimate patient experience. In the end, the patients are there to receive care, and one of the last interactions they will have with your organization involves the care experience. Patients feeling engaged through the care experience will drive how patients frame the way they feel about your organization.

Embracing a patient loyalty strategy with these three things in mind will go a long way to achieving mission and creating loyalty. Furthermore, they will deliver a healthier bottom line.

What challenges do you face in creating loyalty? What things have worked for your organization in making quality first impressions during scheduling, pre-registration and financial clearance? Share in the comments or feel free to email me @ shuddleston@dcsglobal.com. If you found value in this post, share it with your peers!

In the meantime, stay tuned for part two of this series on first impressions where we cover how first impressions are good for preventing denials.