A healthcare organization’s long-term success depends on more than just getting new patients in the door. It’s about convincing them to come back.

The rise of healthcare consumerism makes the patient experience more important than ever before—and failing to fully consider that experience could cost healthcare organizations. According to a report from Accenture, patients increasingly expect the same features from their healthcare providers—responsiveness, access, convenience—that they demand from other industries. In fact, consumers are as likely to switch healthcare providers as they are to switch hotels if they receive poor service, the report found.

To meet these changing expectations and preferences, 82% of healthcare organizations now have established programs specifically designed to improve the patient experience, according to a Beryl Institute report.

By focusing on the following four tips, healthcare organizations can improve their patients’ overall experience, and as a result, boost loyalty and retention.

1. Add convenient scheduling options for 24/7 access

Patients expect 24/7 access to all types of services, thanks to smartphones and the advanced online capabilities of retailers, banks and other businesses.

Whether they’re looking for a weekend appointment or scheduling their visit on a practice website, patients want more convenient ways to see their doctors, including weekend appointments or scheduling online. More than 60% of patients reported that they would switch healthcare providers for the ability to quickly schedule a needed appointment, according to the Accenture report.

Online self-scheduling and appointment requests are two effective ways to accommodate patients’ desire for more convenience—and they align with patients’ evolving scheduling preferences.

According to a Phreesia survey of nearly 14,000 patients across its network, 18% said they preferred to schedule appointments with their providers online. That rate was even higher among younger patients, with 21% of respondents ages 18 to 24 and 25% of respondents ages 25 to 34 preferring to schedule healthcare appointments online.

By providing more convenient scheduling options, healthcare organizations can meet patients’ desire for increased access, which will keep them coming back.

2. Make customer service a top priority

Providing quality patient care is the most important responsibility of any healthcare organization. The reality, however, is that healthcare organizations are subject to the same consumer expectations as other businesses. Patients look for high-quality service from their healthcare providers, so it’s unsurprising that patients are most vocal when they don’t receive service that meets their expectations.

In fact, a study in the Journal of Medical Practice Management found that the vast majority—96%—of online patient complaints were due to service-related issues, such as long wait times and poor staff communication.

According to a Phreesia analysis of approximately 1.2 million post-visit patient surveys, practice staff unfriendliness was one of the biggest detractors from patient satisfaction. In fact, 61% of patients stated that they would switch healthcare providers to receive better customer service.

For healthcare organizations to consistently provide high-quality customer service, it’s important for their leaders to establish an internal commitment. Emphasizing the importance of excellent customer service in staff trainings and encouraging employees to listen to and empathize with patients will help them feel valued during their visits and leave a lasting, positive impression that will drive loyalty and retention.

3. Emphasize targeted patient education 

In Phreesia’s network-wide, post-visit survey, 17% of patients reported that they did not receive adequate instructions regarding their medications or follow-up care. Conversely, however, 85% of patients were very satisfied with the quality of educational materials provided to them and those resources were one of the biggest promoters of patient satisfaction.

The potential of patient education to positively or negatively impact satisfaction, depending on the quality of what’s delivered, underscores the importance of an effective patient education strategy.

There are several ways for healthcare providers to help patients increase their understanding of their own care, ranging from education on side effects, medication guidelines, follow-up treatments and more.

Therefore, it’s important to not only maximize those educational opportunities, but also to ensure those efforts are targeted for your patients’ specific needs.

To accomplish those two objectives, healthcare organizations should collect patient-reported outcomes (PROs), including depression, fall risk, post-surgical outcomes and other conditions. When supported by imaging, lab tests and other diagnostic procedures, validated PROs can:

  • ­Determine what educational approaches might be most effective for each patient
  • Bridge treatment gaps
  • Foster more informative discussions between providers and patients

Automating this data collection will allow your clinicians to have fewer data-entry tasks and greater access to real-time clinical data, enabling more focus on delivering personalized education to their patients. Patients will be better informed and engaged in their care, resulting in higher satisfaction levels and improved outcomes.

4. Leverage price transparency tools

With 47% of Americans participating in high-deductible health plans (HDHP) and HDHP enrollment increasing by 24% since 2006, patients are bearing more of the financial burden of their care. From 2006 to 2016, total out-of-pocket costs have increased 54% ($525 to $804).

Consequently, patients are more concerned than ever about how much they’re paying for their care and are more selective about which providers they will choose to see. Price transparency before patients arrive for their appointments clearly communicates their financial responsibility, reduces payment concerns and allows them to be more financially prepared.

Flexible and convenient transparency tools are a top priority for patients, too. An Accenture survey found that 47% of patients would switch healthcare providers based on their ability to understand an appointment’s cost when they schedule it, and to easily understand and be able to pay their bill using a method they prefer.

Healthcare organizations that help to alleviate financial concerns and limit the possibility of surprise medical bills through price transparency will lay the groundwork for a positive patient experience and greater patient loyalty from the beginning.

Loyalty and retention begin with the patient experience

The long-term viability of any healthcare organization relies on its ability to build patient loyalty and retention. Not only is it much more cost-effective to retain patients—the Harvard Business Review estimates the cost of acquiring a new customer is 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one—prioritizing patient retention also motivates the organization to create and maintain a positive patient experience, which further drives loyalty and retention.

By incorporating convenient scheduling options and price transparency tools, prioritizing customer service and emphasizing high-quality patient education, healthcare organizations will give themselves the best opportunity for long-term success.

Learn about Online Appointments, one of the ways Phreesia improves the patient experience.