How to keep your patients from switching physicians

June 26, 2017

Ending the revolving door of patients.

A quarter of patients are likely to switch physicians if they find a doctor with a more positive attitude-just one of the multitude of reasons that patients give for making a change, according to a new study from Weatherby Healthcare.

 

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Though 49% of patients stay with their doctor for five years or more-often due to comfort and familiarity-patients are sometimes compelled to switch providers.

“A positive attitude goes far,” Bill Heller, Weatherby Healthcare’s president, says. “We also saw a big dissatisfier continues to be time wasted in the waiting room. That can drive someone to leave.”

Other variables that the study revealed could drive someone away were cost, bedside manner and the design and comfort of a facility-with almost 80% of respondents mentioning the latter as a reason people leave.

“There are things doctors can improve upon when patients come into their facility and change the quality,” Heller says. “A lot of doctors are averse to technology, but they can embrace it and improve the experience. Doctors can also be more mindful of overbooking to reduce the wait times.”

Another thing doctors can do to keep their current patients happy is to take a page from the hospitality space, and make the office inviting.

Floyd Russak, MD, Greenwood Village, Colorado, notes even the cheapest hotels update their facility every seven years and a physician should be mindful of how his or her office looks.

“If your office looks like something from the ’60’s or ’70s, it’s a turnoff, especially for younger patients,” he says. “Spend 10% of your salary every 10 years to update it.”

 

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Honore Lansen, MD, a New York City-based primary care physician with One Medical, says when patients tell her that they’ve left a prior provider, they usually explain it’s because it wasn’t the right fit.

“As with any close relationship, a patient wants to feel supported by her doctor, to feel understood and advocated for,” she says. “She wants to know that his or her doctor really cares, and will do everything necessary to promote good health. If a patient feels that the provider is disingenuous or inauthentic, he or she will have trouble believing that her doctor is truly invested in her well-being.”

Next: Level of doctor's positivity does matter

 

A persuading factor in switching primary care doctors often comes down to a physician’s level of positivity.

“I am very down to earth with my patients and take time to explain their labs and answer questions. I do a lot of teaching and I think the fact that I demystify medicine makes them fall in love with me and the practice,” says Leslie Ann Williams, MD, Healing Wings International, St Thomas, Virgin Islands. “A few patients left because I was not at their beck and call and will never change that. I am human and I stress a lot of self-care. I am being myself, meeting the patients’ needs while meeting my own.”

Competence Among All

It’s not surprising to learn that patients want their doctors to be knowledgeable and up on all the latest medical research, but they also want the staff to be competent and helpful. When things are running hours behind schedule and the front desk staff don’t seem to be doing much, it can cause a patient to rethink their options.

Lansen says sometimes patients come to her having left a prior provider because the previous doctor’s office felt disorganized.

 

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“Wait times were long, appointments were booked out far in advance, lab results weren’t always delivered,” she says. “This can be extraordinarily anxiety-provoking for a patient. At our practice, we report all lab results, abnormal or not, and we explain what they mean. Maintaining a foundation of trust with a patient includes sharing all of the information as it becomes available, and making sure that it’s decipherable in a language the patient understands, not just medical jargon.”

She also makes sure to start and end all visits on time.

“I can’t count the number of instances in which I’ve heard a shocked patient proclaim that he can’t believe we actually started the visit promptly,” Lansen says. “Respecting a patient’s time goes a long way in developing a relationship of mutual regard.”

Next: "The number one complaint I hear"

 

As patients develop long-term relationships with their physicians, they are less likely to let things bother them enough to leave. The study revealed that patient satisfaction grows with age, as 82% of those over the age of 55 said they were satisfied with their physicians, compared to just 67% for those ages 18 to 34.

Communication Matters

About a third of all patients in the study were unhappy with the communication they were receiving from their doctors, and that often led to a move to find someone new.

 

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“The number one complaint I hear is that the patients feel rushed and are unable to have questions or concerns addressed,” says Jeffrey S Gold, MD, Gold Direct Care PC in Marblehead Massachusetts. “I make it a point at each appointment to clearly take the time to ask the patient if they have any questions or concerns and address them. I feel that taking this few extra minutes with a patient greatly helps with patient retention.”