Patient loyalty and the role of digitalization in it
01.05.2022 10:41

Patient loyalty and the role of digitalization in it

"I can recommend an excellent doctor who I have been seeing for years" or "I really like going to my doctor, the atmosphere is friendly and they really care about me". As a doctor, these are exactly the words you want your patients to spread to the world.

Considering a medical practice from an economic perspective can be helpful to reveal clear parallels between classic businesses and medical institutions. Thus, you can efficiently adopt and apply methods from the private sector, such as those from the general areas of digitalization and process optimization. 

 

Satisfaction and complete trust in you and your team, despite the tense health situation in which patients usually find themselves, is the ultimate goal for your medical practice. The key word is patient loyalty and here we would like to explore this topic and go into detail about the influencing factors and how they can be promoted and developed. 

Why is patient loyalty important? 

The significance cannot be denied, but it is not always easy for many doctors to name specific reasons and the corresponding arguments. On the surface, we see two main factors that should determine an increased interest in patient loyalty as the primary goal of every medical practice. 

 

The economical aspect

As the owner of a medical practice, you are aware that, in addition to the daily medical routine, you also have to pay attention to the profitability of your business. This is a point in which healthcare providers can often learn a thing or two from conventional companies, even if the preconditions are not 100% the same. Referral marketing in particular is based on the idea that customers conclude their shopping experience with a positive impression and are then happy to share this with their friends and relatives. Satisfied patients who have received comprehensive care are happy to recommend their doctor to others, and your practice will undoubtedly benefit from this. It is also very probable that these patients will return to your practice the next time they need help. 

Why is this important? For companies as well as for your medical practice, it is much more expensive and time-consuming to acquire new customers/patients than to retain existing ones or even to win back lost ones. A strong patient loyalty pays off for both accounts and generates both new and returning patients, thus ensuring a good basic workload. Let's take a closer look at how you can achieve this in detail.

 

The medical aspect

The health of your patients is always in the foreground. A strong patient loyalty with its various disappointment and enthusiasm factors reflects not only the health-related services but also the qualitative service within your practice. One advantage is that if patients remain with you, you gain a more complete overview of the patient's health condition and of the history of previous treatments, special conditions and incidents that may not always be evident directly from the (electronic) patient dossier. Documentation that is as complete as possible not only helps you make treatment decisions, but also gives your patients the feeling that they are in good hands. 

From the patient's perspective, one uncomfortable aspect of a possible change of medical practice is telling the same story over and over again, starting from scratch. So how do you manage to convey this positive feeling that your customer is in good hands right from the start?

 

How do you achieve patient satisfaction?

If doctors want to focus on boosting patient satisfaction, it can be helpful to take a look at the challenges that stand in the way, such as the already mentioned disappointment and excitement factors that patients experience. And often you will find that these factors are not due to expertise - your patients usually cannot judge that anyway. These are the supposed details that patients are facing from the first contact until the end of the treatment. Assuming that the medical treatment is performed flawlessly, the only things your patient can still evaluate are the following:

  • Initial contact by telephone or in writing
  • The reception in your practice
  • The waiting times
  • The communication of the medical procedure
  • The contact during and after a treatment

"The first impression counts" also applies here. Make sure you have a professional and modern website. Seek advice on design and layout, because patients often have a different impression than you do as a medical professional. Eliminate all obstacles to initial contact and ensure that telephone numbers, opening hours and contact forms can always be found without annoying searching. Make it possible to make appointments online, so the staff can avoid long phone calls in many cases, and your patients can save time waiting on the phone. The first impression of "that was easy" is created immediately. 

Another useful tool: clarify the most frequently asked questions straight away by means of automated responses to incoming e-mails or via your contact form: 

  • When to expect a response.
  • That an appointment can also be made online
  • What information to have ready or to bring with you at the next contact. 

The more you can resolve automatically, the less administrative effort will be required, which directly ensures much shorter waiting times and less stress at the reception desk. 

 

Consequently, special attention can be paid to the interpersonal aspect, which must be the focus in any case when it comes to health concerns in order to create a positive patient experience. Friendly greetings, smiles and personal accompaniment to the waiting area - these are things that have a great effect even far away from any digitalization. It is important to transfer these basic principles to online communication as well. Because even during video consultations, it is important to meet patients on a human level. And it is ironically surprising that the automation of such " interactions" can also help to achieve greater humanity and patient satisfaction.

The improved accessibility and similarly close proximity provided by the technical possibilities of digitalization reduce, among other things, the experience of sometimes long waiting times, for example in potentially overcrowded waiting rooms. A study by the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences found clear results, according to which alternatives to on-site visits to the doctor's office have a direct (positive) influence on patient satisfaction. The reasons for this include easier management of the patient's own time and better integration of a doctor's appointment into the patient's daily routine.

Just before the treatment, you have already contributed to the highest possible level of comfort. Now you still need to communicate your core competence and your approach clearly and understandably to your patients. Patients are often nervous, less receptive or hesitant to admit that they have not understood something. 

This often leads to queries in the reception area, in which medical assistants may not always be able to find an optimal and simple answer. Frequently, this can lead to questions that need to be asked by you as the doctor. Avoid this by making sure that your patients understand what has just been discussed. Transmitting what has been discussed in written form can also help people to sort out all the information again afterwards and at their own convenience. The EPD (electronic patient dossier) is ideal for this purpose. Here, patients and doctors have the opportunity to provide each other with documents, medical results or prescriptions. 

 

Developing patient loyalty successfully

Two satisfied employees at the reception desk

Patient loyalty also ensures greater satisfaction within your own team

 

Your team and you have done a great job, now you should highlight it. Marketing is essential for medical practices, and certain basics like online review options have a greater impact here than they do for traditional businesses and stores. After all, reviews and comments shared about a medical practice are about the advice and treatment of a person's health situation. The prioritization of such a review is undoubtedly higher than, for example, for any product purchased in a store or retailer - in case of doubt, an unsatisfactory product can simply be replaced and exchanged.  

The fact that this can be automated indirectly via the online presence at relevant evaluation portals as well as actively by requesting evaluations after successful appointments turns out to be a real blessing. 

By sending e-mails to your patients - as long as you use them wisely - you can increase patient loyalty and indirectly initiate and promote processes such as evaluations or recommendations.

Used correctly, digitalization in medical practices therefore does not necessarily lead to dehumanization in the healthcare system, but rather has the potential to free doctors and medical staff from administrative burdens and thus sustainably increase patient loyalty and patient satisfaction.



 

Cover image from National Cancer Institute. Additional image from Emma Dau.