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The Psychology of Patient Loyalty: Why It Matters

Did you know that it costs six to seven times more money to acquire a new patient than retain an existing one?

In a digital age when competitors are just a click away, patient loyalty is more relevant than ever. But before you can promote a loyal following, you need to understand the psychology of loyalty.

Why, for instance, do some patients stay loyal to one provider for years? And what do successful providers do to earn that loyalty?

An in-depth analysis by Gallup identifies five key predictors of patient loyalty:

  1. Overall satisfaction
  2. Image or reputation
  3. Satisfaction with problem resolution
  4. Effective follow through
  5. Treating patients with dignity and respect

Let’s go deeper into the specifics of each patient loyalty predictor. 

Overall satisfaction

Dale Carnegie wrote, “There is no such thing as a neutral exchange. You leave someone either a little better or a little worse” than you found them.

In other words, you can encourage or discourage patient loyalty with every patient interaction. That’s why even the busiest practice will always find a way to meet or exceed their patients’ expectations.

In the Gallup poll, data suggest that the primary driver of patient loyalty is “quality of care.”

While this finding is hardly surprising, it’s important to note that quality care doesn’t just include technical expertise. Good practitioners are also knowledgeable about their patients.

For instance, all patients want to feel they are more than just a time slot; they want to be understood and cared about on a human level. They appreciate being called by name. They notice when they don’t have to provide duplicate information on their treatment history everytime they come in.

Wait time also factors heavily into patient satisfaction. A survey by the Cleveland Clinic of over 1,000 patients found 50 percent disliked extended waiting room time. Likewise, 50 percent disliked feeling rushed when with their provider.

Loyalty is often heavily tied to convenience. Patients will stick with a provider where they feel known and appreciated. These are patients who value having an office visit run smoothly, even if it means a little extra drive time.

When it comes to overall satisfaction, it’s all about offering a consistent experience that addresses patient needs.

Image or reputation

Multiple social and psychological studies report that people like to feel like they’re part of a community. That’s one reason why patient engagement is so important to building loyalty.

Engaging with your patients helps you–and them–create a sense of belonging. It also builds a positive reputation for your practice.

Help engage patients through sincere, fun, and authentic posts to social media. Then, when patients visit the office, do whatever you can to put them at ease. Start conversations by asking and answering open-ended questions. Offer a bottle of water or point them to other amenities. Listen to their concerns.

The more that patients can feel connected to your practice, the more likely they will attribute their positive feelings to you. In the end, engaged patients are loyal patients.

Another way to build your reputation and engage with patients is through sponsoring events or groups in your community. Sponsorships build name recognition and associate your practice with positive experiences in the minds of current and potential patients.

It also stands to reason that when patients have a good experience, they’re more likely to talk about it. So–don’t be afraid to ask your best patients for reviews and testimonials! After all, the better your reputation online, the better your new patient pipeline will be. Not to mention your patient loyalty.

Satisfaction with problem resolution

Even in the best practices, patient problems do arise. It could be as simple as having to reschedule an appointment. Maybe it’s more complicated, like having to resolve insurance issues.

Regardless of the issue, your patients will remember the way you helped them even more than they remember the problem itself. A caring, supporting and helpful attitude is invaluable in solving patient problems.

Most importantly, patients don’t want to feel ignored or left to solve their own problems.

When a patient calls to ask for help, avoid the passive approach. Instead, familiarize yourself with the patient’s background and situation so you can take charge of the conversation. The more quickly you can bring up patient information as you talk, the more easily you personalize the call and resolve the problem.

When patients feel like your practice helped them overcome their problems, the resulting trust will naturally lead to better patient retention and loyalty.

Follow through

The way you follow through can also build trust. Before patients can feel loyal to your practice, they need to trust that everyone involved in their care will do their respective jobs correctly.

Successful patient experiences usually begin on your website and extend far beyond the office visit. As a natural extension of your visit, follow-ups can be a great way to see how your patient is doing and ask post-visit questions.

Just as importantly, every follow-up call shows patients that they are on your mind and that you care.

But calls aren’t the only way to show concern. Email, social media, and your website are also important venues for updating patients about changes in your office, health tips, and best practices. 

Want to get even more personal? Sending a card, email, or text message on birthdays and holidays is a simple way to show your patients you see them as more than a body in a chair. Everyone likes to be remembered on special occasions.

Treating patients with dignity and respect

When patients choose your office for treatment, they are really choosing a personal relationship with you.

By contrast, struggling practices may view their patients as replaceable commodities. Such a view correlates to the impersonal way they may interact with patients. But there’s a better way.

Successful practices understand the importance of relationships, which is why they treat their patients will as much personal attention as possible–every time.

Show your patients you respect them by treating them like a welcome guest in your office. Train your staff to be personable by smiling, looking people in the eye, and paying full attention.

The key to patient loyalty is creating a culture in your office that puts the patient at the center of your focus. When your practice is truly patient-focused, patient loyalty will follow.

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