Why are your patients leaving?

Maintaining loyalty and keeping patients engaged is an art form worth learning.

Did you know that 48% of consumers feel frustrated with their current healthcare providers? One in three would switch providers right now if they could find an affordable alternative.

Even more conservative industry estimates report that 7-10% of consumer attrition represents as much as $100 million in lost revenue opportunity. Shocking as these figures may be, they are part of a larger trend. The creation and sustainability of loyalty is a problem that has bedeviled the health care industry for years. Solving it will require a new commitment to understanding how consumers approach their care.

The Frugal—and Fickle—Health Care Consumer

A patient is earned by an election of trust. We know that patients don’t return when providers break that trust or fail to live up to their expectations. Two concurrent trends have driven these expectations higher than many organizations are prepared to manage.

1. A Surge in Out-of-Pocket Costs

Historically, insurers or government programs assumed a majority of the responsibility for health care costs, and consumers didn’t apply as much scrutiny to their care options. But now that their money is at stake, consumers pay keen attention to the value they receive. They demand high-quality care, ease of access and high-end amenities, all at a reasonable rate.

These high standards put immense pressure on providers to continuously improve their operations. If patients can’t find a good value with their current provider, they’ll look for it somewhere else.

2. Digital Empowerment

Technology has permanently transformed the way patients pursue care. Specifically, the internet has allowed for unprecedented levels of transparency and choice. These changes have already revolutionized several industries, and health care is finally following suit. Accustomed to quick and convenient comparisons of hotels and restaurants, consumers have begun to expect the same from health care providers. Thanks to the world of virtual care and the innovating thinkers (I’m looking at you CirrusMD!), this trend is building momentum in the healthcare industry.

Consumers now understand that if their current provider disappoints their expectations, they have a wealth of choices at their disposal. This makes it easy for them to simply walk away from care experiences that present them with difficulties, frustration or confusion.

Are You Missing Loyalty Growth Opportunity?

Health care leaders can be encouraged by an important fact revealed by the *Market Insights study: consumers prefer to be loyal.

According to the study, 58% of consumers say they’d prefer to receive all of their care from just one health brand. A comprehensive range of health care services, convenient (if not preferred) access, consistency of experience and seamless personal health information sharing are all elements associated with consumer-friendly health systems.

If consumers actually crave loyalty to health brands, then why do providers fail to create strong bonds with them?

The answer may lie, in part, in misguided marketing analysis.

A holistic view of loyalty resists simple measurement. Retention data does not tell the complete story. Consumer loyalty, after all, is as much about relationships as it is about volumes and revenue.

This subjective emotional side of loyalty has proven difficult for providers to track and quantify. Historically, health care leaders have relied on a proxy that they can measure: the positive patient experience.

Patients will Remember—and Return to—Providers Who Treat Them Well.

Experience can’t be discounted. It is a key aspect of loyalty in the consumer journey, and it’s critical that organizations get the experience right. But health care’s a unique industry—there can be long gaps between individual episodes of care. Therefore, if an organization is only building loyalty while the patient is in the building, it’s missing many opportunities to engage and influence loyalty in the interim.

Most health care leaders now agree that loyalty is more than the sum of a patient’s positive experiences and that further understanding is necessary to engender it. Loyalty is a construct, built from a wide variety of consumer interactions with a health provider. To nurture loyal feelings, health care organizations need to understand what these interactions are, how they intersect and the impact each individual interaction has on the next; they need to grasp the constituent components of loyalty.

How Loyalty Is Built

Drawing from a national database of more than 300,000 health care consumers across the country, and our work at CirrusMD, a chat-based platform that delivers instant access to healthcare, I’ve identified seven components of loyalty that health care organizations should consider:

1. Brand Score

This is loyalty’s first, most fundamental factor. Consumers must be aware of and think favorably about your organization to choose you for care. Brand score is a cumulative result of marketing efficacy, news events, local/environmental factors and word of mouth.

2. Engagement

Do consumers read and share your brand’s social media posts? What about SMS messages and direct outreach? Do they visit your local events? Interactions like these strengthen a sense of familiarity and trust with your consumers—whether they’re actively pursuing care or not. We have seen success with one of our largest clients with hyper-targeted, strategic patient engagement campaigns that drove member registrations to their virtual care platform by nearly 225% in the matter of a few days.

3. Need

Every consumer has unique health issues and needs. Naturally, they will favor those organizations that are best equipped to provide care based on personal need and preference or pension for technology solutions vs. traditional means. With money being top of mind for most members, it is important to recognize that engagement driving healthcare consumers to virtual services will result in savings for them from hundreds to thousands of dollars per avoidance. Anticipating need with the right message will keep your them coming back.

4. Access

Barriers to care, confusing bureaucracies or excessive wait times sour a patient’s opinion about an organization. Access, also known as Customer Effort Score (CES), is a critical element to ensuring that those consumers who know, prefer and need your services are actually able to access care on their own terms. CirrusMD, has witnessed the sheer amount of accessibility that a virtual care platform opens up to individuals, from working moms to individuals living in rural communities. Over 80% of the healthcare issues consumer chat about on the platform are resolved, which increases member satisfaction, reduces cost, improves outcomes and the holy grail of loyalty.

5. Motivation

Most consumers can find multiple providers near where they live who offer a wide variety of similar, if not identical, services. Motivation measures the stated degree of preference a consumer has for any one provider or brand.

6. Experience

This factor comprehends considerations such as: How well does the provider care for the patient? Does the consumer feel delighted with the organization’s service? Immediate service is correlated to a pleasurable experience for most members, so implementing a service for members using CirrusMD’s virtual care platform will ensure first contact in as little as 90 seconds.

7. Net Promoter Score (NPS)

Premised on a single question—“Would you recommend this provider to your friends and family?”—the NPS is a time-tested means to measure and indicate future utilization of your brand.

What Gets Measured Gets Improved

Every step along a consumer’s individual journey provides an opportunity to better understand and engage with those you hope to serve now and into the future.

Using these simple steps and taking the guess work out of generating consumer loyalty is where we can help. We help health care leaders, marketers and administrators everyday by setting metrics of assessing strengths, weaknesses and gaps relating to the creation of loyalty among consumers.

*Sources: Market Insights 2017 NRC Report, NRC Health and Becker's Hospital Review

Amy Batteram