The move by big tech companies and retail organizations into healthcare has changed patients’ perspective and expectations when it comes to healthcare. Patients now expect a more consumer-oriented experience that matches many of the other experiences they have in their lives. Ideally, they would find that experience from their dentist, vision specialist, or primary care physician. However, if they do not find it there, they will go searching elsewhere for it.
The reality is that big tech and retail organizations are leveraging the fact that they are seen as convenient. One retail competitor is literally called “MinuteClinic,” which conveys that the experience is going to be fast and convenient. Think about how that compares to healthcare’s brand of being tough to schedule, long waits in waiting rooms, and often waiting months for appointments.
Those of us in healthcare know the pitfalls and challenges patients face when they go the convenient route. However, patients do not know the difference in quality of care. Plus, big tech and retail do not even actually have to be more convenient since they already have the appearance of being more convenient. That is what traditional practices are competing with in healthcare today.
Medical Practices Need a Rebrand to Compete with Convenient!
The first step to addressing this change in patients is for practices to actually care about the patient experience. Don’t be confused by this. Providers have always been focused on providing patients with excellent care with very few exceptions. However, they have not always focused on a great patient consumer experience. There is a subtle but important difference between providing great patient care and delivering a great patient experience. The latter is what is necessary to adapt to new more consumer-oriented patients.
The good news is that this is not a zero-sum game. Efforts to provide a great patient experience can actually make a practice more efficient and increase revenue all while providing patients the topflight consumer experience they expect.
Here are five areas that cater to this new more consumer-oriented patient that can help you boost your patient retention and acquisition efforts.
1. Online Self-Scheduling
We know that many practices are afraid of online self-scheduling. Plus, it is worth noting that it is not the end-all-be-all to scheduling. Some patients are still going to want or need to call to schedule an appointment and get other questions answered. However, for many patients, online self-scheduling is 100 times more convenient.
Think about a busy adult at work who needs to schedule an appointment. It is much easier for them to hop online and see what options are available than it is to call and possibly sit on hold waiting for someone to come on to schedule the appointment. Many people at work cannot even make the phone call, let alone have the flexibility to wait on hold. Plus, we all seem to have busy schedules which makes navigating online a much easier way to see appointment availability versus playing Russian roulette with the scheduler guessing what time may work.
Online self-scheduling is the perfect example of a feature that will drive patients to other options and a more convenient, self-service experience.
2. Customized Patient Reminders Based on Preference
We all know the power of patient reminders. Amazon has perfected the art of the text reminder as it updates us as packages head our way. The same kind of reminders is something consumer-oriented patients want and expect.
While we all love the text reminder, we are increasingly seeing how these reminders need to be customized based on the communication preferences of the patient. Some people may prefer an email to a text. If I received the first reminder, I may want the option to turn off future reminders.
Our communication and reminder system for patients needs to be customized and personalized to their needs as much as ours.
3. No More Waiting Room
Will the waiting room survive? The answer is it will since practice care schedules can often run ahead or behind. However, how we view the waiting room is changing. Before, you needed a large waiting room for patients to fill out their intake forms. This is being replaced by patients completing those forms at home where they can do it at their leisure and provide more accurate responses. The waiting room is the worst place to fill out this information.
Plus, the technology is now available to keep the patient updated on things like current wait times and where they are in the queue for their appointment. This type of informed communication with patients means they can slip out of the office and quickly stop by Starbucks to grab a coffee rather than wasting their time sitting in the waiting room.
Each situation is unique, but the waiting room as we knew it is becoming a relic of the past.
4. Two-Way Texting
We already talked about how patients love text reminders. However, patients love back and forth text communication with their practice even more. Though many doctors feared patients would abuse this type of two-way communication, experiences implementing it have proven that this is rare. Plus, those that would abuse it are going to fill other even more time-consuming communication channels regardless of whether you offer text communication or not. Two-way texting can be your friend even in these situations. The reality is that most patients only want to interact with their practice when they need to.
Opening a channel to two-way text communication can make your practice more efficient, reduce phone calls to your practice, and provide an excellent patient experience. This also goes back to whether you’re striving to improve your patients’ experience or not.
Empowering patients with two-way text communication shows them you care and want to give them better access and the best experience possible.
COVID kind of pulled the cord on many practices’ excuses that they could not do telemedicine with patients. We also learned that an in-person visit is better for some appointment types.
Where appropriate, telehealth appointments can help patients overcome barriers to in-office visits such as distance or transportation costs. And that savings and convenience isn’t lost on patients.
Many patients truly value the convenience of telehealth. Any parent who has dragged their kids into a doctor’s office knows this value. Anyone who has made the long drive to an appointment or struggled to find parking for a doctor’s visit knows this value. For most people, their home is the best “waiting room” for a visit.
Patients who love the convenience of telehealth will look for other options if you do not offer it.
Patients’ move toward a more consumer-like experience in healthcare is driven by the desire for a more convenient care experience. Practices have an opportunity to embrace this new consumer mindset and to better deliver on those patients’ expectations. Practices that can align their patient offerings and amenities to that approach will be more successful in retaining returning patients and attracting new ones.