Gauging Patient Engagement: 5 Indicators
Between running your practice and focusing on providing the care your patients need, you might not put a lot of thought into patient engagement. But you should. It’s five times more expensive to get a new patient than to retain a current one. Ignoring what your patients need could end up costing you.
But what does an engagement mean when applied to your patients? Unlike other industries, the healthcare “customer” doesn’t usually purchase the “product,” (in this case healthcare) unless they need it. You probably won’t find them sporting a T-shirt with your logo on it or anticipating your next announcement with bated breath. Truth be told, they probably only think about your practice when they need to schedule an appointment. But medical patient engagement has been linked with better patient health outcomes. So, what does an engaged patient look like? Here are some features they may display:
- They understand the health concerns they’re facing
- They’re aware of the treatment options available
- They’ve taken note of their symptoms and are prepared to discuss them with their healthcare team
- They make educated decisions about their health instead of just following rules doctors create for them
- They know what they can control (diet and exercise) and what they can’t (hereditary conditions, etc.)
But an engaged patient may not necessarily be engaged with your practice. They might be active participants in their health care plan, but afraid to bring up specific issues they have with your practice. These issues could include:
- Your front desk staff. A rude or incompetent support staff could turn patients off, even if they love the doctor.
- Appointment wait If it takes six months to get in to see you, a patient might seek treatment somewhere else.
- Your technology. Does a patient need to call your office to schedule an appointment instead of making one online? Lack of convenient technology can annoy patients and cause them to look for another practice.
How can you tell if a patient is engaged with your practice? The obvious answer is to ask them. But patients might not always tell you that they think your support staff is rude or are annoyed that your office hours are inconvenient. Patient behavior can give you insight that surveys and conversations can’t. Here are some patient engagement metrics to look at.
Are your patients using your portal? If enrollment is low, or patients enroll but never use the platform, you’ve got some work to do. Try educating them about what the portal can do and following up with reminders about using it when they call in to schedule an appointment or are sent an appointment reminder. Website traffic can also be an indicator of patient engagement, although a robust patient-friendly portal might pull patients away from your website. If all the information they need for scheduling appointments and other health-related tasks is available in the portal, they won’t need to visit your website for that purpose. So dipping web site visits could be a sign of reduced interest among prospective patients, not current ones.
Medical Appointment Cancellations
Being booked for months in advance might seem like a good thing. But patients can get frustrated if they have to make an appointment five or six months ahead of time. High cancellation rates can be a sign that patients have made appointments with another provider instead of waiting for the one they made with you. The opposite is also a problem. A wide-open schedule might be great for the patient, but a lack of appointments makes it hard to bring enough money through the doors to stay afloat.
Bills are paid late for all sorts of reasons. Patients may have recently found themselves in a difficult financial situation. Insurance may not have covered the correct amount of a bill, leaving a patient to file a claim with the insurance company.
But if your late payments are increasing in volume, you might need to look into your patient portal. Is it difficult to pay a bill? Are your billing statements unclear? Is there a discrepancy between what the patient thought would be billed and what was actually billed? A few bad billing or bill pay experiences can turn a patient off a practice he otherwise likes.
Just because you don’t hear patient complaints doesn’t mean they aren’t coming in. Do you have a process for your support staff to deal with complaints and direct them to the right people to make necessary changes, or does your staff keep them from you to spare your feelings? If you don’t hear the negative feedback, you can’t address it.
Start by letting your staff know that you want to hear all patient feedback they get. Then, create a way for them to pass it up the chain of command. If a receptionist hears negative feedback about the web portal and a patient’s billing statement, she should know who to direct each of those issues to.
Increasing Patient Engagement
Obviously, most patient retention strategies include fixing issues as you hear about them. But sometimes, you need to actively look for the bad. Try emailing a questionnaire to current and past patients to determine what they did and did not like about your practice. That data can spur changes that can help you retain your current client base.
Want to discuss ways to increase your patient portal? Contact us today.
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