Customer loyalty is important to any industry and healthcare is no exception. But a recent study by NRC Health showed that more than 40% of healthcare consumers are not loyal to a hospital or health system.

That number is even higher among older patients, with more than 65% of patients over age 65 saying they have no loyalty to a specific hospital or health system. That lack of loyalty can be expensive, with some estimates saying that every 7% to 10% of patient attrition can cost a hospital up to $100 million in lost revenue.

It’s not just hospitals and health systems that are feeling the effects of shifting loyalty. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation says that members of the Millennial generation are less likely to have a primary care physician than older generations. In fact, 45% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 do not have a primary care physician. In contrast, only 28% of those who are 30 to 49 years old, and 12% of those age 65 and older do not have a primary care doctor.

Patients Switch Providers for Many Reasons

A recent study by Accenture showed that patients are more likely to switch doctors if they don’t get the service they expect than they are to switch airlines or insurance companies.

There are several reasons why patients switch healthcare providers. Among the reason cited in the Accenture survey are:

  • Quicker appointments. Two-thirds of patients said they would switch providers if they could get an appointment they needed more quickly.
  • Convenient location. Half the patients said they would switch doctors to go to a more convenient location.
  • Customer service. More than 50% said they would switch doctors for better customer service.
  • Cost transparency. Nearly said they would rather choose a provider who made it east to understand the cost when they scheduled an appointment.
  • Clear bills and easy payment. Patients want bills that are easy to understand and want to pay using their preferred method.

Urgent Care Centers Meet Many Patient Preferences

Urgent care centers, retail health clinics, and other non-traditional primary care settings meet many of the patient concerns revealed by the Accenture study and have been steadily increasing in number over the past several years. According to the Urgent Care Association, there were 9,279 urgent care centers in the United States in June 2019. With a median patient volume of 35 patients per day, urgent care centers accounted for more than 118 million patient visits in a single year.

Health insurance companies are also driving the change toward retail health clinics and away from primary care providers. Aetna Health, the nation’s third-largest health insurer, recently announced that members who use CVS Health services will see zero cost or low copay treatment options. Both CVS Health and Aetna Health are part of CVS-Aetna.

What Can Providers Do to Increase Patient Loyalty?

Changing consumer preferences and competition from urgent care centers and other non-traditional settings may have providers wondering what they can do to increase patient loyalty and prevent patients from leaving their practices.

Here are just a few of the things medical practices can do to help build patient loyalty:

  • Offer weekend and evening hours. Consumers value convenience and the ability to get an appointment as quickly as possible. A survey recently conducted by DocASAP showed that 54% of patients would prefer to see their provider within seven days of scheduling their appointment.
  • Offer online scheduling. The DocASAP study revealed that 84% of patients want to be able to schedule appointments after hours. Online scheduling lets consumers make an appointment whenever they want.
  • Offer a choice of providers. Nearly half of those surveyed by DocASAP said they would see a different doctor in the same practice
  • Provide care options whenever possible. A recent study by Kaufman Hall said 70% of patients would consider virtual visits rather than travel to a physician’s office. The Kaufman Hall study showed that only one in three providers offer basic online scheduling, and only 25% have virtual visit options.
  • Use digital communications technology. More than half of those surveyed in the DocASAP study said they prefer to receive appointment reminders by email or text messages. When it comes to post-appointment communications, 58% prefer to use email, text messages or an online portal.

Next Steps

Hospitals and physician practices can help increase patient loyalty by adopting digital technology and tools. To get more information, insight and ideas, download DocASAP’s new eBook Catching Up to the Healthcare Consumer.

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