Why patient loyalty is so important, and how to build it
It’s always a great feeling to see a new patient come through your practice doors. You devote an incredible amount of marketing time and effort, both online and offline, to attract more patients so that you can expand your patient base and, with it, your bottom line. However, with all this emphasis on attracting new patients, many practices lose sight of an equally important item: maintaining existing repeat revenue by fostering patient loyalty.
Why is loyalty so important?
Emphasizing patient loyalty can have a serious impact on your practice’s bottom line. According to statistics from the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, patients in recent years have averaged just over $11,000 in annual healthcare spend, including eyecare. That means every patient you bring back year after year gives you yet another piece of that $11,000+ pie! Not only that, but patient retention is proven to be significantly more cost-effective than new patient acquisition, with a recent study on patient retention concluding that it costs 5 times more to attract a new patient than it does to maintain and promote a relationship with a patient who has already attended your office.
How to keep your patients coming back
The bottom line? Practices that focus more of their attention on cultivating patient loyalty see a noticeable increase in revenue. Statistics show that just a 5% increase in the number of returning patients can translate into between a 25% and 95% increase in profits!
So if patient loyalty is so important, how do you keep your patients coming back? Let’s take a look!
1. Build your patient personas and do your research
Long-time readers of EyeCarePro’s blog know that we’re big believers in the need to start any serious marketing initiative with building patient personas. Once you’ve identified the type of patients you want to continue coming to your practice, start doing your research about how and where best to reach out to them, what kind of offers and communications will keep bringing them back, and what factors might cause them to go somewhere else for their eye care. Don’t be afraid to offer incentives such as gift cards and raffle tickets, where allowed and appropriate, to encourage patients to participate.
Helpful and productive ways to conduct this research may be through patient interviews and post-appointment surveys. Some specific factors that you may consider addressing in your interviews and surveys are:
- How does the patient feel about the quality of the care they receive at your practice?
- How do they feel about the affordability of your services and the insurances you accept?
- Is there anything about their experience that the patient would like to see improvement in?
Some of the feedback you receive from these interviews and surveys will be actionable, and some of it won’t be usable. In either case, patients often appreciate the opportunity to be heard, and the mere fact that you’ve asked their opinion will encourage loyalty, and increase the chances of retaining some of these patients long-term.
Once you’ve got your research in hand, you can get to work building a comprehensive patient experience that emphasizes those points.
2. Make eye care as convenient as possible
Like with everything in life these days, convenience and ease of access are the names of the game. The easier you can make it for patients to come into your practice, the more likely they are to continue to do so. Your website is a big part of that equation. Make sure that your site is easy to navigate on mobile devices and tablets. Display your hours, location, and phone number in easy to find places for those repeat patients that can’t quite remember all the details themselves.
Patients also appreciate the ability to book their appointments online, and the easier you make this feature to find and execute on your website, the more likely they are to follow through and book a return appointment with you.
Thinking beyond your website, you can take the burden off your patients to remember when they’re supposed to return again for their annual eye exam (and encourage them to do so) by employing email and text reminders.
3. Streamline the patient experience
Let’s face it, you can only stare at lifestyle magazines in an office waiting room for so long before you start to get a little impatient and grumpy. Nobody likes to sit in the waiting room for what seems like forever, waiting for an appointment that was scheduled for half an hour ago, and anyone who experiences that as the norm when they go to see their eye doctor is likely to be looking elsewhere for their eye care. Where possible, you should look for places to streamline the process of taking each patient through their whole appointment, from intake to exam to optical (if necessary) and on through post-appointment billing and instruction.
Part of the process of streamlining can be handled on your website by offering patients the option to fill out intake forms online before attending the office. This will allow patients to move swiftly from first entering the office, to seeing the doctor without “holding up the line” by having to go through tedious (if important) paperwork before starting their appointment.
Another place where processes can also be streamlined is handoff points between different staff members. Doctors should run through the whole process with their staff, and make clear at each step of the appointment where and when the patient hand-off should take place. When accompanied by a warm handoff from one staff member to the next, this seamless process should have the dual benefit of making the current patient feel well taken care of and looked after, and minimizing wait time by allowing for the most efficient transition to the next patient in line.
4. Be transparent with your insurance and your billing
One of the best ways to make sure that a patient won’t come back to your practice is to surprise or confuse patients with your billing and insurance procedures.
Here, well-trained staff is the best line of defense. Make sure that your front-office staff is well-versed in the various insurances that your practice accepts, and that issues of billing are addressed at the beginning of the appointment when possible. For ease of reference, signage can also be put up around the office outlining the cost of some of the more common exams and tests your practice does for patients.
There is no more sensitive situation than a patient who has received excellent and thorough care, who is then unpleasantly surprised at the bill they receive at the end. Not only do these situations often end up with bad reviews being posted all over the internet about your eye care practice, but the patient almost definitely will not be back. A double loss!
In closing . . .
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to encouraging patient loyalty to your eye care practice. For more tips on how to keep your patients coming back to your practice year after year, and for help with these and other digital marketing initiatives, take a look at EyeCarePro’s Optometry Growth Plans, or give us a call at 201.591.4350.