With consumers more open to switching healthcare providers, patient retention strategies are emerging as a healthcare marketer’s top priority in 2021.
Among other shifts as the pandemic continues to evolve, consumer brand loyalty is changing. This is even true in healthcare. The increase in competition and demand for a frictionless experience is challenging healthcare organziations’ abilities to maintain and improve patient retention rates while honing in on strategies that work.
According to NRC Health’s 2021 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report, 46% of consumers have already changed their healthcare brand preferences, and 62% expect to change theirs after the pandemic.
The openness to switch providers is in large part due to the perceived quality of safety protocols, the delivery of timely information and the availability of virtual care. In fact, a recent Accenture study found 64% of patients are likely to switch providers if they do not meet these expectations in respose to COVID-19.
Over the years, many healthcare marketers have struggled to gain a seat at the table when it comes to patient experience discussions. However, the impact that brand disloyalty will likely have on providers makes it necessary for marketing to be involved as leadership explores patient retention strategies for healthcare.
As a marketer, here are a few key ways you can help your organization shape the customer experience in a way that supports patient retention strategies and reduces customer churn.
Embrace email marketing and text messaging
In 2021, your patients want to be communicated with regularly through channels that are convenient and genuinely support their healthcare needs. The ease of use when shopping online and scheduling appointments has conditioned consumers to expect the same experience across all categories—including healthcare.
For example, if your organization isn’t currently using text messaging for appointment reminders and email marketing to communicate when new test results are available, the time to start is now.
Encourage your patient experience team to explore ways to implement these and other more personal outreach tactics. Start by offering marketing expertise and support when it comes to the technology stack, communication journeys and messaging development.
Offer online scheduling for a more convenient path to care
Particularly for the valuable millennial demographic, but increasingly so for all patients, online scheduling is a major factor in the experience, loyalty and retention discussion. For services that don’t require a referral, like primary care, many consumers will choose the provider who allows them to research providers online and schedule appointments directly.
Even in the specialty care space, when a patient has a referral or doctor’s order for tests, enabling them to easily schedule online will enhance their likelihood to adhere to their treatment plan and continue their care journey with your health system. While this task may not fit with marketing at many health systems, it’s marketing’s role to advocate for the consumer as much as possible and champion the push for broader and easier online scheduling.
Champion patient education and engagement
For conditions and services that are either chronic or have a lengthy care journey—like diabetes, heart disease, joint replacement and pregnancy—patient education and engagement are critical to patient retention, as well as successful outcomes.
Consider building digital campaign strategies that guide and comfort consumers through the decision-making process. Some of these patient retention strategies include:
- Developing clinical journeys for procedures like joint replacement and bariatric surgery
- Generating content strategies and email marketing plans that support and educate women at every stage of pregnancy
- Work with providers and patients to identify the needs and formats to best support patients with diabetes, asthma, heart disease, COPD, CHF and more.
Marketing is uniquely qualified to lead these strategies. By leveraging expertise in digital marketing and content strategy, and through collaboration with clinical and business leaders, marketing teams can move the needle significantly in driving adherence and loyalty throughout the care journey, subsequently improving clinical outcomes as well.
Own the touchpoints that directly impact customer experience
Another critical task that may not fit within the marketing department is managing call centers and overall customer experience. However, challenges in communicating with call center representatives and the lack of a helpful approach can be frustrating for consumers and may drive disloyalty.
To identify friction points in the patient experience, work as a secret shopper when setting up campaign strategies to make sure staff members are fielding inbound leads appropriately and helping consumers get to the access point they need. Use what you learn as an opportunity to provide coaching and scripting to call center staff.
To make a more systematic impact on the patient experience, work with operational leadership to globally address scripting and customer service training to make sure that every phone call interaction a patient has is positive, and gets them to the care they need. Also, make sure that calls are being answered at all. Unfortunately, many patients report calling to make appointments and not getting through or ever hearing back at all.
While healthcare marketers are continuously asked to do more with less, adding patient experience and retention may seem like a tall order. However, we all know how challenging it is to truly grow patient volumes if churn is high, so it’s a worthwhile effort to pursue.
If involving and growing a marketing strategy is new for your organization, be sure to educate your leadership on the trends currently evolving when it comes to consumer brand loyalty to generate buy-in for your patient retention strategies. From there, consider starting relatively small by advocating for email marketing, text messaging and online scheduling first.
Final thought on patient retention strategies
While not traditionally part of a healthcare marketer’s purview, patient retention is emerging as a top priority. This is a common thread in our conversations with healthcare leaders, and will continue to be mission critical as healthcare moves into an increasingly complex and competitive future.
Applying these patient retention strategies will help foster the trust that leads to long-term brand loyalty.
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