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What Is Patient Loyalty, Does It Affect Healthcare Consumerism?

Healthcare consumerism is taking hold, prompting organizations to consider the factors that help build patient loyalty.

Medical professionals are increasingly working to build patient loyalty, in part because of the rapid rise in healthcare consumerism.

After all, consumerism in healthcare recognizes the purchasing power patients have now that high-deductible health plans and patient financial responsibility have increased. Healthcare consumerism suggests organizations need to view the patient as a purchaser, and therefore has led many providers to adopt retail and other service sector principles.

Factors like online provider reviews, an online presence, convenient care access, workable patient registration and appointment scheduling, and a good patient financial experience have all become top-of-mind.

And part in parcel with that has been the concept of patient loyalty. Below, PatientEngagementHIT outlines the idea of patient loyalty and the factors that do—and don’t—help build loyalty.

Defining patient loyalty in healthcare

Although patient loyalty is an emerging topic in the healthcare space, it’s been a mainstay in the retail space.

According to TechTarget, customer loyalty is “a commitment between a customer and a brand that causes the customer to make repeat purchases.”

As healthcare consumerism has grown and organizations have seen the purchasing power patients have, they want to see that same trend. Providers want patients to choose their organization when accessing care.

Of course, the path to building patient loyalty will differ from customer loyalty because the service rendered is extremely different. In a retail space, brands might create customer loyalty programs to keep the shopper coming back.

In healthcare, providers don’t necessarily want to see their patients again; good outcomes are of the utmost importance. But if the patient should fall ill again, organizations need to lean on excellent patient-provider communication, high-quality care, and convenient care access to ensure the patient will continue to pick them.

How to build patient loyalty

According to polling firm Gallup, patient loyalty is the combination of good clinical quality and a good patient experience. Organizations that can deliver good outcomes plus high patient satisfaction will be well-equipped to build deep patient loyalty.

Clinical quality as a top priority

Good clinical quality has to be the baseline of everything a healthcare organization does. If a patient receives negligent care that results in adverse patient safety events, she won’t feel loyal to the practice even if it has all of the bells and whistles of a consumerized healthcare experience.

In fact, it’s that perception of clinical quality that leads the way in building patient loyalty, according to a June 2019 report from Press Ganey. The report showed that when patients and providers perceive good teamwork, high clinical quality, and provider courtesy and respect, both physician and patient loyalty increase.

Supporting high patient satisfaction

Once that bedrock of clinical quality has been established, those consumerism bells and whistles can make a difference. The patient experience part of the loyalty equation can be split into two areas:

  • Healthcare processes: patient access, appointment scheduling and availability, patient financial experience
  • People: good patient-provider communication, friendly staff, shared decision-making, patient education

This is where healthcare organizations can rethink the traditional paradigm of patient experience and begin to draw from other service sectors like Amazon or the travel industry. These industries are pioneers in a seamless process that easily integrates multiple online platforms into a single-stream user experience.

Attracting new patients

The first step to building a loyal patient base is to simplify patient acquisition. Increasingly, organizations are looking at how their online presence affects patient access and loyalty.

In a December 2021 report, Press Ganey asserted that a good online presence is critical to attracting new patients. Patients are looking online to find a provider, consulting an average of three websites to learn about their options.

Having accurate, updated information available online will help patients make the decision to visit a particular provider. Additionally, curating a good online reputation with positive online provider reviews can compel new patients.
From there, patients should be able to get the whole picture of a healthcare organization right from their online searches.

Keeping patients in-network

After an organization has drawn in a new patient, it wants to keep that patient coming back, even if it’s not to the same facility. At the Ohio-based TriHealth, leadership wanted to make sure patients accessed the health system for ambulatory, inpatient, and specialty care.

“Where patient loyalty is important is making sure that those patients are utilizing our services from a physician perspective, from an ancillary perspective, from a hospital perspective when necessary so that we have a really strong continuity of care across the different levels of care that we provide,” John Ward, TriHealth’s senior vice president and CIO, explained in a 2019 interview.

“And when we started looking at how digital will impact healthcare, we knew we needed a way to make it easy for those patients that are seeking to utilize TriHealth to find us, to find the appropriate physician, to be connected into our health system, and to be able to schedule visits.”

TriHealth adopted principles from Amazon to make it easy for patients to find exactly who within the TriHealth system they were looking for. Using an online system, TriHealth created a streamlined provider search that let patients look for specific services, locations, or providers within TriHealth.

Ideally, a patient who visits TriHealth for primary care could use the search to then find a physical therapist. This makes life easier for the patient, enables care coordination over centralized EHR systems, and builds up patient loyalty and helps TriHealth thrive in value-based care.

Good patient relationships

Once the patient has gotten in the door of the clinic or hospital, the best way to assure patient loyalty is to provide a good patient experience. Patients tend to prioritize this good experience over anything else, even online marketing.

For example, an April 2021 report from NRC Health showed that parents who have a good medical experience and see good clinical outcomes are likely to stick with that pediatric healthcare provider, even if there is another, more convenient option.

Of course, this is among the pediatric population, and the NRC research indicated kids and their parents are more loyal than the adult population. Nevertheless, a good patient experience for any age group can make—and more importantly, break—longtime patient loyalty.

A good patient financial experience, too, can influence patient loyalty. Ninety percent of patients agree that a good financial experience influences overall patient loyalty, according to an El Studios and Cedar poll. Even if patients are generally satisfied with the overall healthcare experience, a poor interaction in the billing office can dissuade a patient from visiting a provider again. Ninety-three percent of respondents said a bad billing experience would keep them from visiting that provider in the future.

Healthcare organizations focused on building patient loyalty should consider the patient experience from the beginning to the end of the care journey:

  • Convenient care options
  • Good patient-provider communication
  • Friendly staff members
  • Patient-centered billing
  • Price transparency

As value-based care contracts continue to take hold and reimbursement models evolve, organizations will need to build patient loyalty. While many clinicians don’t necessarily want to see their patients again—lifelong wellness is top-of-mind—they understand patients will realistically need medical care through the course of their lives.

To that end, healthcare organizations should focus on the clinical quality, patient safety, and good patient experience that define patient loyalty.

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