Have you been ‘ghosted’ by a patient lately? Ghosting is when someone cuts off all communication with no explanation. And nowadays, it’s become a viable way to end relationships of all types. Like most eye care practices, there are probably a few hundred patients on your roster who simply stopped scheduling appointments. These dormant patients represent untapped revenue, and if you could find a way to bring them back to life—and back into your practice—you’d capture a big growth opportunity. Every practice needs a patient reactivation strategy. Here’s why:
It’s cost effective.
Estimates vary widely, but there’s no doubt that it costs more to attract a new patient than it does to keep an existing one. Reactivation is like harvesting from your own orchard versus finding land, planting seeds, and finally waiting for the trees to grow. And adding a patient reactivation strategy will save you more than just money. Even the simplest marketing strategy takes time, something busy practices just don’t have. “We began looking at ways to increase patients through marketing but this would take months to have a real benefit,” says Anne Pointer, a practice administrator in St. Louis, MO. When her practice decided to focus on reactivation instead, “within the first month we saw 35 reactivated patients for much less than any marketing plan,” she says.
It will increase your revenue.
Reactivating dormant patients will do more than fill your schedule with those that have simply forgotten to keep up with their eye care. You know that sending recall notices towards the end of the year reminding patients to use their vision benefits works, so take it a step further. The rise in high-deductible health plans (HDHP) can open up opportunities for you to engage with dormant patients—and get high revenue returns. Here’s how:
For someone with an HDHP, a glaucoma check can exceed $1000 if they haven’t yet met their deductible. So it’s understandable—if not advisable—for some folks in their early 60s to delay that service. But early screening and treatment is key to reducing the risk of blindness, and according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, more than 50 percent of individuals with early-stage glaucoma aren’t even aware they have it. This is a pool of patients that need care, but are unwilling to come in due to the cost. When they become Medicare-eligible, cost is no longer a factor. Your reactivation strategy should include running a monthly report in your EHR that identifies all patients who are 3 months younger than 65 (when they’ll become eligible for Medicare). Reactivate these patients, and you’ll enjoy high returns on that patient pool.
It will give you better quality-of-care outcomes.
By reaching out to patients who have fallen off the radar, you promote better patient population care – something CMS will reward. Instead of waiting for a patent to call on their own when they have a major vision issue, reactivation will allow you to provide better care on a more regular basis. Your EHR and PM system should allow you to target the patient type you want to reactivate by diagnosis and time-frame.
A reactivation strategy will also help you thrive with MIPS and quality-based payment systems. Remember, your MIPS scores will eventually show up in CMS databases and in searchable sites for beneficiaries like Physician Compare. And if you don’t participate much in Medicare, you’re not exactly off the hook—private payers will follow Medicare’s lead, as they always do.
Eyes Open: Recalling glaucoma and dry eye patients at the 18th month mark is one required activity you should have performed in 2017 to benefit from the 2019 MIPS bonus payments.
It will reduce your risk of malpractice.
Some eye conditions require ongoing care. If you don’t make every attempt to provide that care, you could be held liable for any adverse outcomes a patient may have. A patient reactivation strategy can lay the groundwork for better documentation—proof that you attempted to reach the patient.
Tip: Compile a list of patients with specific diagnosis codes that have not been seen lately and do not have an upcoming appointment. Then, call that patient and explain that they were diagnosed with an issue that requires regular monitoring by a doctor and to please contact your office. Then document the attempt. Pointer’s practice uses software and a call center to accomplish this, but you can do the same thing manually if you have the time and staff bandwidth.
Two additional benefits? You’ll find out if a patient is continuing care with another practice. If that’s the case, you can note it in your system and move on. It also sends patients the message that you care about their eye health, first and foremost. And that’s even if they don’t plan on returning to your practice.
Reactivation: Should You Outsource?
In today’s practices, overburdened staff often don’t have the time to deploy a consistent reactivation strategy. “We always planned on compiling a list and contacting each patient, but the day-to-day of the practice always pushed it to the back burner,” says Pointer. “When we look back, we never routinely contacted patients to attempt to reactivate them.”
If you choose to outsource your patient reactivation strategy, it can free your staff from the constant details of recalls, the revenue drain of no-shows, and time spend on administrative details like appointment reminders. They’ll be free to focus more on face-to-face communication with the patients in your office, and to attend to higher-level patient engagement tasks. “It was too hard to follow up on each patient and the amount of times it took to reach them,” Pointer relates. “We were calling patients 5-7 times before reaching anyone to schedule an appointment.”
There are third-party services on the market today that will assist you with planning and executing a reactivation strategy. If you’re looking for one, here are a few pointers:
- Seek a service that employs real, live people, not one that makes robocalls.
- Look for an eye care-specific call center.
- Pay attention to how they’ll charge you. Pointer’s practice is only charged if and when the reactivated patient shows up for the appointment.
- Verify communication. Any third-party service should be sending you reports of who they called and what results they gained. They should inform you when a patient switches practices, moves, or confirms that they won’t be returning to your practice.
What about patient portals?
Like many practices, you’ve probably already shelled out for a patient portal that’s supposed to increase patient engagement. You might be wondering if you can use it for patient reactivation too.
Well sure, you could. But it’ll probably be like shouting into the void. Like most eye care practices, you probably added a patient portal to your EHR to attest for meaningful use. Now, it’s sitting there, underutilized. Why? Overall, portal adoption rates have been poor, says William C. Reed, FCHIME, FHIMSS, a consultant with Huntzinger Management Group and a speaker at HIMSS17.
Across the board, less than 30 percent of potential users are actually using portals in any capacity. And those that do use the portals aren’t using it beyond the clinical encounter. They may schedule appointments, fill out paperwork, or check lab results through the portal—but that’s it. No one’s really been able to figure out how to move portal engagement beyond that.
If so few of your current patients are using the portal, do you really think a patient who’s dropped off the radar completely is going to use it? The bottom line is that for patient reactivation, the good ol’ telephone—plus text messaging—is still your best bet.