Patient retention refers to the ability of healthcare providers to keep patients engaged in their care and coming back for future appointments. It is a crucial factor for the success of a medical practice, as returning patients make up most of a provider’s business.
Retaining patients is also less costly than acquiring new ones. Fostering strong relationships with patients makes them more likely to refer family and friends to your practice, which can help grow your patient base and increase revenue.
Here is an overview of why patient retention is important, how to measure and improve patient retention rates, and creative ways to increase patient engagement. You will also get answers to frequently asked questions about patient retention strategies, including challenges for retaining patients, methods for patient acquisition, and marketing for physicians.
Why Patient Retention Is Important
Patient retention is vital for the financial health and revenue stream of a medical practice. A practice is ultimately a business, and patients are the customers who keep the business afloat.
Increasing customer retention rates by 5% can increase profits anywhere from 25% to 95%. Retaining patients ensures a stable revenue stream and boosts a practitioner’s professional reputation among their local community, establishing their practice as a trusted healthcare provider and bringing in new clients.
Strategies for Increasing Patient Retention
1. Patient Experience Improvement
There is more to quality patient care than administering services and prescribing treatments—exceptional patient experience is what sets a provider apart from others in their field.
Patients want to feel valued and heard. A friendly and courteous staff, clean and comfortable office, and minimal wait times make healthcare appointments feel more appealing to patients and less like an errand on their to-do list.
2. Personalize Patient Care
If patients feel anonymous to their provider, they have little incentive to stay with a practice at the first sign of inconvenience. Additionally, without trust and rapport, patients may not communicate their medical needs during an appointment, leading to suboptimal patient care.
People are more than a set of symptoms—taking the time to get to know patients and their individual needs enables practitioners to create customized care plans. Personalized care can improve patient outcomes, thereby fostering patient satisfaction and increased retention.
Even a seemingly small gesture, such as checking in with a patient via the patient portal a certain number of days after an appointment, can go a long way.
3. Provide Clear Communication
Relationships are strengthened by clear communication, and the same is true for patients and their healthcare providers.
Patients can find new prescriptions and procedures to be daunting and opaque. Clinicians should take the time to explain their care instructions in a way that’s easily understood.
Ensure that you communicate clearly with your patients about treatment options, risks, and benefits. Take the time to listen actively, answer their questions, and address their concerns.
4. Use Technology to Increase Patient Engagement
Online patient portal
Neither patients nor administrative staff want to use up their time with back-and-forth phone calls. An online patient portal provides patients with a convenient and secure way to interact with physicians and access their medical documentation online.
Payment plans through healthcare technology can improve patient retention rates in several ways.
- They alleviate the financial burden of healthcare costs for patients who may be struggling to pay for their care upfront. Patients who are unable to pay for their care upfront may delay or forego treatment altogether, leading to poor health outcomes and decreased patient retention rates.
- Payment plans break down the total cost of treatment into smaller, more manageable monthly payments, making it easier for patients to budget and afford their care.
- They demonstrate how a practice values patients’ financial well-being and is willing to work with them to find a solution that meets their needs. Patients who feel their financial concerns are being taken seriously are more likely to feel positive about their care and return to the practice for future visits.
- Flexible payment options also help attract and retain a wider patient base, even those who may not have insurance or whose insurance may not cover the full cost of their care.
Soliciting payments over the phone ties up healthcare staff and takes their attention away from patients in the office. Prevent these time costs with the use of healthcare apps to enable patients to make online payments.
Patients can easily see and handle any outstanding payments they owe, while staff members can provide better in-person customer service since they have fewer calls to answer.
Automated patient reminders
Patient no-shows and missed appointments mean lost revenue for a medical practice. Automated reminders help fill appointment slots and optimize your office’s business hours.
Healthcare technology platforms allow providers to communicate with patients via their preferred method, using text, email, or voice calls to remind them of upcoming appointments or provide other information.
Implementing electronic forms saves patients time in the office and circumvents the hassle of filling out paperwork by hand.
Digital forms also reduce the likelihood of records getting lost in the shuffle. Plus, they give administrative staff time back to focus on care-related tasks, fostering an improved patient experience overall and boosting patient retention rates.
While people may not answer phone calls they receive at inconvenient times, text messages are more likely to reach patients since they can be read at any time.
Providers can customize templates to fit their practice’s brand voice, maintaining a sense of personalized care.
Virtual visits remove the physical barriers to healthcare that some patients face, such as long commutes or busy schedules. Telehealth enables providers to see more patients with less downtime between appointments, so fewer people are turned away for lack of availability.
Telehealth appointments also reduce back-and-forth scheduling calls, the requirement for paper documents, and disease transmission concerns for at-risk populations.
5. Follow up with Patients
Patients want to know their healthcare providers care about their well-being after an appointment and outside the medical practice. Providers can convey this by checking in with patients about any medications and prescribed at-home instructions after an appointment.
Following up with patients demonstrates that clinicians care about patients’ well-being and are committed to their health in the real world. It is also an opportunity to check that they are satisfied with their care and to address any concerns they may have.
6. Measure Patient Satisfaction
Implementing patient feedback mechanisms can provide valuable insights into areas of the practice that may need improvement. This may include:
- Creating a patient advisory council
- Conducting patient satisfaction surveys
- Providing a platform for patients to leave reviews and feedback online
By actively seeking patient feedback and understanding what patients like and dislike about their practice, providers can continually improve patient experience and increase retention rates.
7. Create a Loyalty Program
Rewards for returning patients can improve retention rates and strengthen the patient-provider relationship.
Loyalty programs can offer patients exclusive appointment discounts or access to special services—for instance, additional anti-cavity treatments during dental cleanings at a dental practice. Some providers also offer gift cards to local businesses after a certain number of appointments.
These measures show your patients you appreciate their business and encourage them to keep regular healthcare appointments.
8. Foster a Positive Reputation
Providers can make a positive impression on patients outside of the exam room.
By engaging with patients on social media, responding to reviews, and participating in local events, healthcare practitioners can demonstrate commitment to their community. This also helps build a positive reputation that can attract and retain patients.
9. Invest in Staff Training
All staff members at a medical practice should be trained in interacting with patients, not just clinicians. Demonstrating compassion, empathy, and inclusivity to patients makes for a more positive experience and reduces the likelihood of dissatisfied customers or negative reviews online.
Customer service and implicit bias training can also help staff improve their communication skills, leading to better patient retention.
10. Embrace Patient Feedback
No provider wants to hear patients are dissatisfied with their practice, but responding to constructive feedback is the most direct way to improve patient experiences in healthcare.
By encouraging patients to leave comments on their experience, providers can identify areas for improvement and make effective changes. Patient feedback can also help identify trends and patterns that inform patient retention strategies.
11. Create a Patient-Centered Environment
A patient-centered environment emphasizes the comfort, convenience, and care of the patient, not just the practical needs for administration.
Clear communication is a crucial aspect of a patient-centered experience. Providers should encourage patients to ask questions and participate in their care decisions.
Since medical appointments can be intimidating for some, providers should try to create a welcoming and comfortable physical environment that promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety. Patients who perceive their doctor’s office as a stressful place are less likely to return.
12. Provide Accessible Care
When patients need healthcare, they want appointments within a matter of days, not weeks. If they are unable to get timely care, they may look for a different provider.
Providers can make themselves more accessible to their patient base by offering extended hours, telemedicine options, and same-day appointments.
13. Build Relationships with Patients
Patients are more likely to stay with their medical provider when they feel a personal connection.
By taking the time to get to know your patients and their individual needs, you can establish trust and rapport. This ultimately leads to better communication and more customized care, which both aid in patient retention.
14. Continuously Improve
Patient retention is an ongoing process, not a one-time fix. Providers should regularly solicit and monitor patient feedback, track patient retention rates, and make necessary changes to their services to ensure their practice is always improving.
Staying on top of patient satisfaction helps healthcare providers stay ahead of the competition and retain more patients over time.
Creative Ways to Increase Patient Satisfaction
Make Patients Comfortable
Don’t underestimate the effect of the physical environment on patient satisfaction. Small features like plants, soothing artwork or nature-themed murals, gentle music, and calming lighting create a more relaxing environment and reduce anxiety during patient visits.
Lower the noise level in the waiting room by implementing sound-absorbing materials, limiting overhead announcements, and using white noise machines. Also provide comfortable and inclusive seating options such as chairs with back support, benches, and couches with adequate padding.
A few perks go a long way in showing patients you care about their comfort and convenience. Offer a selection of reading material and entertainment in waiting rooms to help distract patients and alleviate anxiety while they wait. Another low-cost option is to provide water, coffee, or tea—practices often have these available for staff already.
Make doctor’s visits more convenient by providing patients with free or discounted parking. This is especially helpful for practices in densely located urban areas, where competitors are frequently located nearby and threaten patient retention rates.
Also, consider virtual telehealth appointments, which are often more convenient for patients and staff alike.
If your practice has the resources, consider hosting wellness events or partnering with local organizations to promote health initiatives. These community projects strengthen a provider’s presence in their patients’ lives and serve as marketing for physicians to reach new clients.
Healthcare providers can also remain on returning patients’ radar via social media platforms, posting updates on their practice’s news and events.
Questions for Healthcare Providers to Consider
What Is Patient Retention?
Patient retention refers to the ability of healthcare providers to retain patients over a period of time, keeping them engaged in their care and coming back for future appointments.
Why Is Patient Retention Important?
Returning patients make up most of a provider’s business and are critical to the financial health of a medical practice. 43% of health executives say they lose more than 10% of their revenue to patients going elsewhere for care.
Higher patient retention rates boost a provider’s professional reputation, further attracting new patients.
How Can Providers Improve Patient Experience in Healthcare?
Healthcare providers can keep their patient base happy by:
- Creating a comfortable physical environment
- Customizing care for individuals’ needs
- Communicating treatments and instructions clearly
- Providing technology tools for patient communication
- Offering incentives
- Building a positive reputation in their local community
- Investing in staff training
- Embracing patient feedback
- Providing accessible care
- Regularly measuring patient satisfaction
What Incentives Can Providers Offer to Improve Patient Retention in Healthcare?
Providers can offer discounts on future appointments, referral bonuses, or free services or add-ons as part of patient loyalty programs. Additionally, they can offer returning patients extended appointment times or priority scheduling.
Some healthcare practices implement rewards programs with points systems, which keep patients coming back for multiple appointments to accrue credits.
How Can Healthcare Practices Measure Patient Satisfaction?
Offer patient feedback surveys after appointments, either in-person or on your healthcare platform. Keep track of patient reviews online, which reveal current patient satisfaction and can serve as an avenue to respond to their concerns—doing so demonstrates a practice’s accountability to patients’ happiness.
Practitioners can also track patient retention rates over time to gauge the effectiveness of their patient retention strategies.
How Does Staff Training Lead to Improved Patient Retention?
Staff training improves healthcare providers’ communication skills, which tends to increase patient satisfaction and loyalty. Better communication improves overall practice efficiency and fosters better patient outcomes.
Implicit bias and empathy training also ensures providers are treating patients inclusively and staying welcome to a wider patient base.
What Are Some Challenges for Providers Trying to Retain Patients?
Healthcare providers may face competition from other practices, changing patient needs and expectations, and a lack of staff resources to implement patient retention strategies. For newer or small-staffed medical practices especially, providers may find it difficult to follow up with a growing patient base.
Technology can mitigate these challenges by automating key workflows and allowing staff to focus on providing a positive patient experience in healthcare visits.
How Can Healthcare Providers Continually Improve Patient Retention Rates?
It is important to regularly monitor patient feedback, track how patient retention rates change over time, and make adjustments to your practice as needed. One method is to implement regular internal check-ins and recurring staff training.
Providers should also stay up to date with industry trends and best practices, as healthcare norms can change greatly from year to year.