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What provider traits add up to strong patient loyalty?

An Accenture survey showed that patient trust, healthcare access, and ease of doing business are key to patient loyalty.

A new report from Accenture is detailing the outsized role patient trust plays in building patient loyalty, showing that patients are six times more likely to stay with their providers if they trust them.

The report, which is based on survey results for over 8,000 adult patients in the US, also showed patient loyalty’s connection to care access and ease of doing business.

Patient loyalty is akin to customer loyalty, which is defined by TechTarget as “a commitment between a customer and a brand that causes the customer to make repeat purchases.”

As healthcare increasingly embraces trends of consumerism, customer loyalty turns into patient loyalty. Organizations operating on thin margins and looking to build market share are particularly keen on patient loyalty, or the idea that the patient will return to that site for care.

Patient loyalty isn’t necessarily a given as consumers continue to navigate the plethora of care access options at their disposal.

According to Accenture, 89 percent of patients who left a provider did so because of limited ease of navigation. This means the provider was hard to do business with, the patient had a bad experience with administrative staff, or the digital engagement services did not meet patient needs.

This is double the amount of patients who said they left their providers because of a bad clinical experience or because they found a provider they like better. To that end, investment in patient engagement solutions and administrative staff, rather than clinical expertise, will be key to retaining patient loyalty.

Far fewer patients said they switched providers because of access or limited appointment availability (13 percent) or because of value (10 percent).

But if poor healthcare navigation and unintuitive business operations prompt patients to leave a practice, what makes them stay?

According to Accenture, patient trust plays a key role.

Notably, half of patients said they picked a new provider because they considered the provider a trusted source of care. This means the provider was recommended to the patient by a trusted family member or friend, that the provider was proactive and engaging, or that the provider seemed trustworthy in their promotions and advertisements.

In fact, that trust piece proved paramount to patient loyalty, the survey added. Patients who said they trusted their providers were six times more likely to stay with their providers. Respondents said they trusted their providers when they felt listened to and heard, received clear diagnosis and treatment instructions, and noticed their care teams worked well together.

The Accenture report also outlined how patient trust and positive patient experiences are connected.

For example, patients satisfied with the services they received are 4.6 times more likely to also say they trusted their providers. Patients who were satisfied with finding a provider were four times more likely to report trust, while those who were satisfied with diagnostic testing and treatment decisions were 3.8 and 3.7 times more likely to say they trusted their providers, respectively.

Trust isn’t the only thing driving patient care access decision-making.

Although only 13 percent of respondents said they left a provider due to access issues, 70 percent said it’s why they picked their new doctor. Factors adding up to good patient access included convenience in terms of appointment times and location, ample appointment availability, digital health access, telehealth offerings, and good customer service.

A third of patients said insurance coverage and cost of care influenced their decision to visit a certain provider, while a quarter said the provider’s online reputation and brand were determinants.

In addition to ease of access and patient trust, having a suite of digital patient engagement services was also key to driving patient loyalty. This is largely because highly digital patients—those who have adopted digital tools across all parts of their lives—are more likely to stay with their providers. They are also more likely to report trust and that their providers are easy to do business with.

“These findings underscore how essential it is to get health experiences right on consumers’ terms,” Accenture experts wrote in a blog post outlining the findings. “The health organizations that achieve consumer loyalty are those who take an empathetic lens to improve access, experience and outcomes by providing a personalized health journey built on trust.”

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