Expert Opinions

Expert: How to Increase Patient Retention

Identifying the problem and appointing a leader are just the first steps to reducing churn.

Patient churn is an ongoing challenge for practically every health care system in the nation. Recently, we analyzed sample data from a range of U.S. health care systems and found a new patient growth rate of 45% – but a patient churn rate of 48%. Obviously, these numbers would significantly impact the sustainability of any organization over time.

In dealing with patient churn, health care systems often have more questions than answers. However, consumer analytics can provide insights to help you understand your patient churn and develop a plan to address it.

The actions you take will depend on your unique circumstances, but the following best practices apply to any organization.

Quantify your churn rate

The first step in dealing with churn is determining how big a problem it really is. By analyzing relevant data points – from past patient visits to household composition to family income – you can identify your active patients who are at risk of churning and your active patients with no risk. You can also monitor patient retention at a variety of levels, from overall, system-wide churn all the way down to specific physician practices.

Quantifying patient churn empowers you to begin answering questions such as:

  • Where are we winning, and where do we have an opportunity to improve?
  • What will happen in the coming year if we don’t take steps now?
  • Why do some of our clinics have higher churn rates than others?

Compiling the data into a dashboard is a helpful step that allows you view the situation from a variety of perspectives.

Appoint a C-suite sponsor for your initiative

Everyone bears responsibility for patient retention, from support staff to clinicians to management. Organizations that make a top leader accountable for patient retention have a much greater likelihood of success. If possible, this should be someone from the C-suite, such as a chief operating officer or chief marketing officer.

Appointing a C-suite sponsor makes it clear to everyone in the organization “where the buck stops” when it comes to patient churn. It’s also vital to develop key performance indicators (KPIs) that allow everyone involved to monitor the progress and results of your patient retention initiative.

Develop a strategic road map for the entire organization

In a health care system with multiple hospitals, urgent care clinics, specialty practices, and primary care physicians, it’s important for everyone to be on the same page. Once you develop a top-level plan, those strategies and objectives should be consistently applied across the entire organization.

In executing your plan, be sure to allocate the time and dollars necessary to maximize its impact. Part of your plan should involve deciding what kinds of patients you want to attract and retain. You may want to define the characteristics of your “ideal patient” – those who have the most value to your organization and help you support your organizational mission. Once you know how that core patient group is defined, you can take steps to retain them and acquire more patients like them.

Adopt a multi-pronged approach

In managing patient churn, there’s no “silver bullet” that works in every case. Depending on your circumstances, you’ll want to adopt a variety of tactics to address the issue – from email to direct mail to social media. Knowing where patient churn is occurring, and which types of patients you want to retain, will often dictate the content and frequency of your messages. By analyzing the results of your marketing campaign and making adjustments as you learn, you can develop a program that you know will work to attract new patients and keep them coming back for years.

The bottom line

Patient churn is an issue that the C-suite needs to take seriously to ensure the long-term success of a health care organization. Using analytics to quantify the problem and develop a strategy is a proven approach to improving patient retention over time.

Bill Stinneford is senior vice president at Buxton, a consumer intelligence company that equips healthcare organizations with the insights they need to navigate a changing healthcare landscape.



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