Many small healthcare practices across the country are tightening the strings on their proverbial purses amid soaring inflation and a potential recession. Even though practices aren’t eager to spend extra cash right now, investments in improving patient experience could be worth it to give them the upper hand over competitors, according to a report released Wednesday by customer engagement platform Weave.
In order to be competitive and maintain patient loyalty, small practices must meet patient expectations consistently and “be aggressive” in getting those patients back to the office for ongoing treatments and regular check-ups, Weave Chief Marketing Officer Chris Baird said in an interview. Loyal patients who regularly return for care are the most crucial to retain because they provide
the greatest amount of revenue, the report declared — and they need a good experience to feel that sense of loyalty.
But many owners of small healthcare practices are combating rising costs by cutting down staff hours, raising prices and increasing the number of available appointments each day, Baird pointed out.
“With fewer staff who now have to handle a larger workload, patients are not feeling like they are a priority when they are trying to receive care,” he said.
Weave commissioned an independent market research firm to survey 360 small practices (those with less than 50 employees) and 1,040 patients. More than 60% of patients said that they felt rushed, not heard or not paid attention to by a provider over the last 12 months.
But small healthcare practices’ bottom lines will suffer if their owners let the patient experience slip as a top priority, the report warned. Small practices are much more likely than hospitals or health systems to benefit from keeping patients loyal to their practice. Patients will often take their business to a competitor with a better in-office experience if they feel they are being rushed or ignored, Baird said. It’s important that practice owners conduct regular meetings in which staff members can explain what they need to provide patients with convenient and courteous service.
Small practices must remember that patients’ expectations concerning convenience and experience are higher than ever, the report pointed out. During the pandemic, patients became accustomed to things like curb-side check-ins and texting to confirm appointments. The convenience economy is continually spreading its impact into healthcare, which makes it more difficult for practice owners to neglect the patient experience, Baird said.
Patients are also getting into the habit of delaying care, as many are struggling with costs amid rising inflation. When choosing which investments to make in the patient experience, small practices should think about ways they can adapt to better serve a more cash-strapped patient base, the report suggested.
“Evaluate your payment options and spend more time training staff on ‘closing’ patients who may want to delay care. Many offices prefer to go with a payment processor that doesn’t offer options customized to their patient’s needs,” Baird said.
Managing patients’ payment plans by digitizing paper forms and verifying insurance is tedious work that most staff members do not enjoy, he pointed out. Baird suggested that practices adopt automated “buy now, pay later” software so that patients have more flexibility and providers have the upfront payments they need to appropriately manage cash flow.
Baird’s recommendations make sense, but do small practices really have the money for that right now?
In his view, the investment will pay off. Baird called attention to the fact that many practices spend 20 hours of staffing costs per week on digitizing paper forms, still require their staff to make appointment confirmation calls one by one, and rely on Post-it reminders to decide how to fill cancellations. The cost of the staff that performs those tasks is rising, so automating those touchpoints with software has a tangible return on investment, Baird argued.
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