Five P’s to Retain Patients and Build Referral Business

by | Apr 24, 2023 | Business Management, Patient Experience

In my last video, we talked about the five P’s of employee retention. Today, I’d like to talk about the five P’s of patient retention.

Acquiring New Patients v. Retaining Existing Patients

Building a patient base is an important part of building a practice. The process of acquiring patients, however, can be expensive. It takes time, effort, and often cash to create a brand that draws new patients in.

On the other hand, how much does it cost to retain a patient? The answer to that question is ‘remarkably little.’ Keeping the patients you have is often more about providing a good patient experience. Over the lifetime of your doctor-patient relationship, that individual could be worth thousands of dollars in revenue to your practice. Additionally, patients who have good experiences will become loyal; they will often even help you acquire new patients through referrals. The good news is that you can build a solid patient relationship using some simple (and free) techniques.

Given the potential expense of reaching new patients, and the lifetime value of existing patients, each patient encounter is extremely important. We want to keep that patient, meet their expectations, and make sure that they’re an enthusiastic referral source.

5 P’s to Improve Patient Experience

1. Predictability – Patients like to know what to expect

Each patient has expectations about their encounter with your practice. They have an idea about you, your staff, and your culture before they ever come to your door. They generally have an unwritten list of things that they want in the office, including everything from the way the waiting room looks to the way that answer the phone is answered. They even have expectations about how the bathrooms are kept. All of those things fold into the patient’s expectations of that encounter. The only surprises you want them to have are positive surprises, when you exceed their expectations, not fall below them.

Surprisingly, many practitioners never stop to think about their average patient. With a little bit of understanding, you can figure out who that person is, and tailor the experience that they’re going to have. Part of that is the second P.

2. Promptness – Patients appreciate timeliness

Patients are always looking at their watches, aren’t they? Be fair – you probably do, too. Time is one commodity that’s almost always in short supply. Our pre-conceptions involve a lot of “waiting math.” Every step of the patient encounter, from greeting to payment, has a little clock built into it. Patients have expectations on how long they’re going to wait in the waiting room before they’re greeted, how long they’re going to wait before they’re taken back, seen by the doctor, helped by optical, etc.

You can’t make every wait shorter, but there are some items that you do have control over. For instance, you (and your team) can work towards fast responses to questions, speedy pickup times when the phone rings, and shorter on-hold times. Promptness and time sensitivity are critical to patient satisfaction. They transmit the silent message that you value their time. Make sure that your systems, processes, and your internal way of doing things help you deliver fast and accurate responses for patients.

3. Presence – Be focused

Nothing says “you don’t really matter” like distraction. Be fully present and focused when dealing with your patients. Don’t be distracted. Don’t be trying to multitask. Research is showing over and over again that the whole idea of being able to multitask is a myth. When our attention gets spread out over too many areas, we’re not able to concentrate – and it shows.

In my opinion, this is one of the greatest arguments for using a scribe. Scribes allow the doctor to be more present with the patient. You’re able to make direct eye contact while receiving information from the patient, and also while giving information to the patient. Five minutes of time with a doctor who’s 100% there is worth 15 to 20 minutes of a distracted doctor who’s looking over his shoulder trying to enter data on a keyboard while talking to a patient.

It’s extremely important that we, as professionals, be responsive to our patients and be fully present. Put the cell phone down. Do not answer texts, emails, or or any other communication that is distracting. We also want our staff to do that and we need to take the lead. We have enough unplanned interruptions in our workdays without letting things like email notifications and text messages intrude on patient appointments.

4. Peculiarity – Stand out from your competition

What makes you special? What makes you peculiar? What makes you driving worth driving past four or five other eye care providers to get to your office? It might be your service, your products, or your people. In reality, it’s probably going to be a little bit of all of those that make people want to choose you.

Our goal is to de-commoditize healthcare. The current trend is to treat providers as if they are all the same, interchangeable. Patients may not believe there’s any difference between doctors, and it doesn’t matter where they get their care. We understand that it is different. Make yourself special. Treat people properly and give them a relationship, something they just can’t get anywhere else. Also, learn to communicate that value, so they understand that you are providing unique, personal service.

5. Perception – Your patients’ point of view is important

Our product is not just a thing – eyeglasses, contact lenses, or exams. Our product is also how people feel about the items and services they purchase. It doesn’t matter if I think I’ve done a great job, or if I think I’m just the best doctor and took care of that patient better than anybody else. Unless the patient feels the same way, I have failed in my patient encounter.

Use feedback to your advantage. Survey your patients so you know what they think. Make sure you take the time to respond when you receive feedback that is less than optimal. Those are valuable opportunities to make corrections and improve. Use them to fine tune your systems and processes, and be certain your people also understand that we must provide a pleasing experience for our patients.

These Five P’s will help keep patients in your practice. A good patient experience is much better than a billboard. It will generate enthusiastic referrals from loyal patients. So do the five P’s. Be predictable, be prompt, be present, be peculiar (in a good way), and manage the perception.

By Tim Nichols, OD

Preserving independent optometry through efficiency and excellence in practice.


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