May 1, 2018
by Robert Taylor MBA, VP, BuzzyDoc
Recognizing a recent shift in the way patients engage with their healthcare providers should play a significant role in the future success of any individual private medical practice, especially dentistry. The old adage that a patient will merely follow the advice and recommendations of their healthcare providers is no longer relevant. This shift in patient behavior, now more than ever, is due to the fact that a patient is no longer just a patient, but rather a consumer of their healthcare.
There is more competition for your services than ever before, so you need to understand what the typical traits of a consumer are in a traditional sense. Consumers are very conscious about shopping industry competitors to ensure they maximize both quality and price for any goods or services they require. They no longer visit the closest retail store to fulfill their needs, but rather, they pull up their smart phones, open up Google, research whatever product or service they need and then filter through the results. The final decision by the consumer is heavily weighed on what level other people have rated the particular product or service or which one of their trusted connections currently uses or recommends them.
These consumer mannerisms should start to sound very familiar for any medical practice owner reading this right now. Gone are the days when a general dentist recommends a patient to their preferred local orthodontist for braces and the patient fully complies and schedules their observation appointment with that referred practice. The actions taken by most patients today reflect typical consumer behavioral traits, because the technology now exists for them to make informed and self-guided decisions regarding their healthcare. Before they call that orthodontist you recommended to schedule an appointment, they are scouring their social media connections and web pages to determine whether the ratings and reviews provided validate that practice earning their business.
What this also means is that the traditional means by which private medical practices, in industries such as dentistry, are able to attract new patients has also shifted dramatically. Patient engagement strategies in healthcare traditionally focus on increasing new customer acquisitions rather establishing long-term relationships. In the past, if a practice wants to increase revenue, they typically focus marketing efforts on getting new patients to walk in the front door. But how much effort are they putting forth to simultaneously close the back door? How can practices anchor in their patients long-term and mitigate losing those new patients, especially since so much time and capital is spent to earn their business in the first place?
If a dental practice breaks down the costs to acquire a new patient and analyzes the revenue opportunity for that patient to visit the practice one, maybe two times each year for basic cleaning, how great is the marketing ROI when focusing on new foot traffic only? The real opportunity for significant value from investing in growing your practice should not just focus on new patients, but rather maximizing the value of the patients you have already acquired. If you determine that over 50% of your current patient population visits your practice once or twice each year, imagine what would happen if you were able to convert them into patients that visited your practice at least three to four times a year? This is where a healthcare rewards program can bring tremendous value to help close the back door to your practice and help incentivize your patients to stay with you.
There are three core values that drive a successful rewards program that you should focus on with your current patient population: 1) engagement, 2) loyalty, and 3) compliance. Again, these patients are also consumers to numerous other industries that are already incentivizing behavior (airline miles, credit card points, Starbucks rewards, etc. This simple methodology is no different when applied within a medical practice setting.
The first value for any rewards program is patient engagement. Again, you already spent the time and effort in getting these patients in the door, so what can you do from a marketing and sales perspective to keep them engaged both during their visit as well as while they are away from your office? How are you making your patients feel like you value them by treating them like a VIP at your practice, not just during visits, but all the time?
The second value is patient loyalty. Once you are fully engaged with your patients, they should start to feel a sense of loyalty to your practice; very similar to how a consumer tends to become loyal to a particular product or retail store. Once your patients become loyal to your “brand”, they will have a higher rate of return for future visits to your practice. More importantly, that loyalty will result in them engaging in beneficial consumer habits like promoting your practice to their family, friends and social media networks. As you already should know, there is no better ROI from any single patient then the referral of another patient to your practice.
The third value is patient compliance. When you engage with your patients and they start to become loyal, then they inherently will become more compliant with the treatment plans you recommend for them. When this happens, the result is similar to a double-bottom line win. The increase in treatment plan compliance creates a positive economic impact through more regular visits to the office. As a result, your patients should also see an increase in their overall health by sticking with you over the long-term as their doctor who they now know and trust to have their best interests at heart.
When you put these three values together in this order, you can see the natural progression that occurs when you approach both your new and existing patients with the mindset that they possess a consumer mentality for coming to your practice. Once you engage them and they morph into the loyal and compliant patients you want, this will, in turn, make your practice more efficient in cross-selling your services and should have a positive effect to your bottom line.
About the Author
Robert Taylor MBA, VP, BuzzyDoc, grew up understanding the nuances of the dental industry living with his father who ran an orthodontic practice for over 30 years. Robert and his team’s efforts at BuzzyDoc to increase awareness about their platform, which provides the technology infrastructure for dental practices to engineer patient engagement programs, stems from their deep knowledge of the healthcare industry and business acumen necessary to help practices increase their bottom line through alternative marketing and patient retention strategies.
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