Enough about Leakage: It’s Time to Shift the Conversation to Loyalty

Physician With Patient In a previous post entitled “Is Leakage a Dirty Word?,” we introduced the concept of shifting away from using negative terminology such as leakage when referring to patients who may be seeking care from an out-of-network physician to a more positive consumer-centric mindset.

This transition in healthcare can best be described as a shift from “we know we are the best so patients should come to us” to “our patients are our customers, we want to provide them with a stellar experience so they will think of us first.”

Customer loyalty is defined as a customer continuing to believe that your organization’s product/service offer is their best option. It best fulfills their value proposition whatever that may be. They take that offer whenever faced with that purchasing decision.

In reality, healthcare is not thought of as a true customer-focused service. Patients just accept the way they are treated whether it’s good or bad and then may or may not go back for future care needs.

How do we change the tone of the conversation? Can we stop talking about keeping a patient in- or out-of-network and switch the conversation to referring your patient to a trustworthy physician that you know will give the best care possible? If you are truly interested in changing the tone, here are three important considerations for effective physician management:

1. Earning both physician and patient loyalty starts at the first point of contact

How can hospitals and health systems start earning loyalty from both patients and physicians? For the patient, building loyalty begins with the very first contact that an individual has with your organization and, most often, that’s a phone encounter. It can start by providing one phone number to call within the organization that can help patients with any question they may have. Instead of a patient leaving a voice mail in hopes of getting a call back, the patient actually speaks to an organization representative that can help guide the patient and find the answers for them. It can even go so far as to actually schedule an appointment while the patient is on the phone.

For physicians, retaining their independent decision-making ability is important. If they have a reason to send a patient out-of-network, they will refer their patients elsewhere. Why not make it easy for physicians to refer to your facility? It’s not just about scheduling the appointment, but it’s about notifying the provider that their patient was seen and providing a summary of the actual visit. This way, the provider is informed of the outcome and the patient’s overall care seems coordinated. That can be a huge win to build loyalty.

While the above examples may seem simplistic, they are operationally quite challenging. But, if it’s a step to achieving true loyalty from your patients and physicians, wouldn’t it be beneficial to examine and even implement?

2. It’s about fostering not forcing relationships

Referrals are not about a single point in time, or individual agreements between providers, they are about longstanding relationships built on trust and loyalty. The best hospitals and health systems foster those relationships and then focus on ensuring that those relationships provide the best possible patient outcome. One where stellar patient service is the primary focus. This focus will in turn build up positive relationships.

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3. Operational inefficiencies are to blame, not your physicians

Leakage often happens as the result of an operational breakdown within the health system and should be addressed at the source. Time to appointment, timely follow up to questions posed to the practice, and results after the appointment are often not seen as important, but they are absolutely contributing to leakage.

Penalizing your providers for leakage may be shortsighted and creates an adversary atmosphere. Maybe there is a true underlying issue causing the need to refer out-of-network. Access may be an issue within the network, but access is much easier out-of-network. Before placing blame on providers for not keeping patients in-network, take a look at any operational inefficiencies that are contributing to patients being sent out of network. Considering process improvements could go a long way to improving loyalty.

Think about the potential revenue to your organization

There are costs associated with not providing the highest quality care and the best patient experience. According to a recent Accenture study, seven percent of patients switched providers due to a poor patient experience which translates to a loss of $100M in annual revenue per hospital. 

When it comes to medical care, patients are seeking the best care possible and are willing to give hospitals and health systems a little more leeway if the patient experience isn’t optimal. But, how much is enough? When do they decide to make the shift to a new physician or hospital?

Referral management is an extremely important component for providers, especially if they are taking on any financial risk. Focusing on keeping patients in-network is important, but don’t lose sight of the overall goal which is to give patients a positive experience so that they will continuously return for care – thus being loyal to your organization. Creating a culture where patients are drawn to the organization as a result of the stellar service will go a long way in growing market share and decreasing out-of-network activity and ultimately, increasing loyalty.

Let us know what you think. Has your organization begun to focus on loyalty?

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Emilio Ruocco

Emilio Ruocco

Emilio serves as Evariant’s Vice President, Physician Practice leader, ensuring the company’s Healthcare CRM/PRM, business intelligence and marketing solutions deliver maximum strategic value to clients; with particular emphasis on physician market analytics and business development. Prior to joining Evariant, Emilio was Senior Director, Performance Technologies at The Advisory Board Company, helping hospitals yield operational insight from internal systems and external data sets. He has also served as Leader of Customer Value and Insights at Healthways, a leading disease management and wellness firm; and Vice President, Strategic Communications for pharmacy benefits management company CaremarkRx, prior to its merger with CVS Pharmacy. Before entering the healthcare sector, Emilio held business development, investor relations and communications leadership roles for several public companies in a variety of industries.
Emilio Ruocco