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Patient Loyalty Hinges on Better Healthcare, Patient Navigation

A quarter of patients left their providers in 2021 mostly because of poor patient navigation, which should prompt some providers to rethink their approach to patient loyalty.

Healthcare and patient navigation problems are an even bigger issue than a bad clinical experience, a key finding from a new Accenture report as healthcare organizations dial into improving patient loyalty.

More patients than ever are leaving their healthcare providers for a new clinician, a bad sign for healthcare organizations that rely on strong patient loyalty to maintain a healthy revenue cycle.

“Providers’ growth and customer retention is increasingly tied to experience,” the Accenture authors wrote in the report’s introduction. “Healthcare organizations have recognized the need for change and have begun to invest in and transform experience capabilities in recent years.”

But those efforts aren’t getting them very far, according to the report, which detailed responses from a 21,000-consumer survey. Of those respondents, 25 percent left their provider in 2021; that’s up from just 18 percent of consumers who did the same in 2017.

That trend is a lot more common among younger patients. While only 14 percent of the Silent Generation and Older Adults (folks over age 65) said they switched providers in 2021, 46 percent of Millennials and 55 percent of Gen Z did.

Importantly, this lapse in patient loyalty isn’t driven by the clinical experience, the survey showed. Nearly three-quarters (78 percent) of people who said they switched providers in 2021 did so because of poor healthcare navigation; only 40 percent said they did so because of a poor clinical experience.

Particularly, folks who said they experienced poor healthcare navigation said their provider was hard to do business with, that they had a bad experience with the front desk or administrative staff, and that the provider's online services and digital front door offerings didn’t meet patient needs.

The Accenture researchers said patient loyalty will have to boil down to four key concepts:

  • Access
  • Ease of doing business and navigation
  • Digital engagement
  • Trust

Access, for example, is a key factor for patients selecting a healthcare provider, with 71 percent of consumer respondents saying convenient care access was the top-rated factor. Patients want office locations close to their work or homes, convenient appointment times, the ability to obtain an appointment quickly, and digital care access options, including telehealth.

Patient trust, insurance coverage and cost of care, and organization reputation or brand were also deciding factors for patients selecting a provider.

Once the patient selects a provider, it is essential for organizations to be easy to work with. Patients told Accenture that when it is easy to do business with a provider, they are nine times more likely to stay than when the provider is difficult to navigate.

In addition to easy navigation, patients are seeking out digital engagement. According to the report, patients who are high technology utilizers with good digital health literacy tend to be more loyal. Healthcare providers need to meet those patients where they are if they want to maintain a strong patient panel.

Highly digital patients are 79 percent more likely to stay with a provider, 90 percent more likely to trust that provider, and 81 percent more likely to find that provider easy to do business with.

Finally, organizations need to focus on building trust with patients to see high retention. More than 80 percent of patients who say they trust their providers are likely to stay with that provider; only 24 percent of patients who are neutral about their providers said the same, the survey found.

Healthcare organizations should focus on patient-provider communication skills, patient data access and access to information, and care team collaboration to build patient trust, Accenture recommended.

Accenture also advised healthcare organizations to first determine non-negotiables in organization workflows and patient experiences. That includes how the organization will build navigable patient access systems and connected internal processes.

From there, the organization can determine its best approach to omnichannel patient experience systems. That means various patient encounters for one individual may be coordinated across the care continuum.

Those efforts need to be supported by strong patient experience analytics that provides insights into evolving patient needs and preferences. However, organizations should not over-leverage health IT.

Digital engagement solutions are not a panacea, Accenture cautioned, but rather a means to create a personalized patient experience. Health IT needs to prioritize a streamlined consumer experience and convenient care access rather than an impersonal encounter.

Moreover, organizations should utilize health IT as a means to free up the human workforce, allowing them to focus on high-touch engagement, Accenture suggested.

“Healthcare organizations that do not improve experiences will find themselves falling behind,” the report concluded. “The good news is that we know what people expect from their interactions—and the factors that are the top drivers of loyalty and engagement. By finding meaningful ways to deliver on these expectations across the healthcare journey, healthcare organizations can set themselves apart—and set themselves up for success.”

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