Attracting new patients is essential for sustaining and growing a medical practice – yet patient retention and attrition is often overlooked. Jason Borody explains why your most unhappy patients are the best inspiration for your business development blueprint.
Hopefully the scenario where an unhappy patient is in your practice making demands and verbally unloading their frustration rarely happens but let’s face it, even the best practices have unhappy patients.
It’s understandable that no-one really wants to deal with an irate patient, least of all a busy practice manager or doctor with other patients to see. But determining why your patient is unhappy and working swiftly to remedy the situation (no pun intended) will help reduce the number of patients switching service provider and increase positive referrals.
Nobody wants to be a patient but you can make them want to be your patient. People don’t like being unwell and it’s easy to mistake their concerns, ill-temper or dissatisfaction as part and parcel of being poorly. Practices that don’t fall into this trap are the ones geared for the future. Patients’ initial confidence in their practice of choice historically came from the recommendation of a close friend or family member. While this is still relevant, prescient practices have realised that technology dominates our society and word of mouth is
now digital. When it comes to online reviews ‘negativity bias’ (where negative information is considered more heavily than positive information) really comes into play. Or in other words, your unhappy patients may negatively impact your new patient signups more than your happy patients could positively impact them.
For this reason, it is important to deal with any unhappy patient swiftly and with great empathy. The empathy part may seem natural for a medical professional or the employee of a medical practice. However, when faced with an unhappy patient who you feel you have done your best for, it is easy to feel attacked (or that the patient is being unreasonable) and this often leads to defensive behaviour.
Why focus on unhappy patients?
Aside from being the right thing to do, focussing on unhappy patients can affect patient bookings and referrals. Preserving and even enhancing your patient relationships can lead to positive word of mouth promotion that specifically mentions your ability and willingness to address complaints.
If you don’t determine why your patients are unhappy you can’t do
everything reasonable and necessary to combat their concerns, and you are inadvertently putting your practice’s brand and reputation at risk (as well as your personal reputation).
You can gain a competitive edge. If your practice has unhappy patients then your competitors are sure to have them too. However, by understanding the precise influencers causing your patients to consider switching providers allows you to not only assuage their concerns but also target your marketing to entice new patients to switch to your practice.
Negative data is positive news
When you understand what makes patients unhappy you can use this data in a positive way. Data-mining will enable you to see patterns in the complaints you receive and track how your resolutions are working. In turn you can put this knowledge to work
and specifically target patients who are most likely to switch provider and reinforce their loyalty to your practice.
Not all patients will be vocal with their dissatisfaction or ideas for improvement. Indeed most patients will leave silently. However being able to determine which patients are unhappy and find out why is powerful information. Often times patients will find many of the same problems after switching to a new provider because
that new provider suffers from the same problem the old one did – lack of understanding why their patients are unhappy.
This knowledge is invaluable to your sales and marketing consultant
who will be able to more effectively target the internal and external
market. Patient attrition should hopefully reduce and new bookings
will increase, in turn benefiting your brand reputation and future growth.
Increase bookings while decreasing workload
When you provide a higher level of care and attention to making unhappy people happy, you create loyal patients who will spread the good word and help drive new patients to your practice. You should view each complaint as an opportunity to improve your practice and increase patient satisfaction.
Most medical practices lack an effective system and process to track patient satisfaction. In turn, they cannot use this data to implement strategic positive change. When presented with digital solutions to these conundrum practice managers and doctors often voice concerns about workload and cost. However, done correctly satisfaction management actually has the opposite effect. The data-driven changes you implement can free up more time and increase revenue.
Happier patients are easier to deal with, their increased trust improves treatment acceptance, and greater loyalty increases both repeat bookings and word of mouth referrals, thus helping to attract new patients. A consistent flow of the right types and quantities of cases is very profitable to practice and in turn funds more sophisticated programs to systemise and automate business processes.
The content in this article was published in The Private Practice Spring 2016 edition.