Josh Weiner is chief operating officer of Solutionreach.
Medical Economics Journal, May 10, 2019 edition , Volume 96, Issue 9
We all want to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs, but you can’t care for patients if you can’t keep the lights on.
Here’s the deal: Of course we all want to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. These are big challenges the healthcare industry is up against. But the bottom line is really, well, your bottom line. You can’t care for patients if you can’t keep the lights on. At the end of the day, you are running a business. Whether or not practices outright state it, just like any other business, the ultimate goal of providers and healthcare organizations is to have a healthy balance sheet.
While the strategies may seem simple-attracting new patients and/or getting your current patients to be more consistent in their care-it is often an uphill battle. However, based on your specific revenue goals (as well as your practices’ current strengths and weaknesses), there are a lot of ways to do this, and any practice can be successful with the right balance of techniques and tools.
Add new patients
This kind of goes without saying, but the more patients you provide care to, the more revenue you bring in to your practice. But what are the most effective ways to increase the number of new patients visiting your practice?
Ask for referrals. I like to call a patient referral the “golden ticket” of the healthcare world. Referrals from one patient to another are one of the most effective ways to attract new business-and should play a big part in your marketing strategy. Train your staff on how to request referrals from satisfied patients. This could be through word-of-mouth or by sending a link in your online communication.
Create a strong website. There is nothing more important in today’s business world than having a good online presence. That starts with your website. Make sure you are regularly updating your site. Make it easy to navigate. If possible, include educational pieces (such as common health questions or a regular blog) to position yourself as an expert in the field. Providing valuable content on your site will also improve the chances that your site will rank higher in search engines.
Encourage online reviews. Just as your website is important to creating an awesome online presence, reviews are also critical. The best way to build your online presence is to ask your satisfied patients to leave reviews. Modern PRM (patient relationship management) systems now let you send quick requests to patients after their appointments asking them to review your practice on a particular site.
Boost recall efforts
Does it feel like more and more patients are becoming inactive? You’re not just imagining things. Americans are visiting their healthcare providers 19 percent less often than they did in 2000. As your regular patients start to disappear, so does the revenue they bring with them. As regular visits to providers continue to fall, recall efforts have never been more important. Here are a few quick ideas to give your recall program a little jumpstart.
Automate your efforts. Using automation to reach out to inactive patients is important because it ensures that no patient falls through the cracks. Implement a system where you can automatically send out messages to patients who are due (or overdue!) for care.
Uncover why patients aren’t coming. You can send a survey to all inactive patients to get a feel for why they might have stopped coming. Ask questions honestly…”Are you afraid of visiting?” “Does the cost prevent you from making an appointment?” and so on. Doing so will enable you to address the unique issues your patient base may be facing.
Unleash the power of the internet. From social media to email, there are lots of great ways you can connect with patients online. Doing so will help keep your practice top-of-mind with patients, even between visits.
Reduce no-shows and cancellations
The average practice sees no-shows rates of 23 percent-and those numbers can be significantly higher depending on your specialty. That’s almost one in every four patients just not showing up! Each one of those lost appointments is expensive (ranging from $140-$310, depending on specialty). Fortunately, there are things you can do to help alleviate no-shows and cancellations.
Consistently remind patients of appointments. The most common reason to miss a doctor’s appointment-36 percent of all no-shows-is that the patient simply forgot. Reminders make a big difference in helping jog those memories. A study found that no-show rates fell 26 percent after sending a reminder. Automating these reminders is a key piece to making sure reminders go out at the right time and to the right patients.
Use the most effective reminder. Sending a reminder via the communication method that patients prefer is one of the best ways of ensuring they actually show up. This means that some reminders will need to go out via text message, some through email, and others with an old-fashioned phone call. On all of your intake forms, in emails, or even in person, be sure to ask each patient how they want to be contacted-and then use that method.
Actively use a wait list. Experts have found that about one in four scheduled appointments will end up being canceled by patients. These cancellations create headaches for staff and losses on your balance sheet. The best way to tackle last-minute cancellations is to keep an active wait list. Track those patients that would like to be seen earlier and then, when an appointment becomes available, send those patients a quick message seeing if they’d like to fill it. It’s easy and effective.
As you focus on both increasing the number of new patients and maximizing the appointment attendance of current patients, your practice can expect to see significant improvement in its bottom line. Consider implementing one or two of these methods at a time and then continue to add additional strategies over time. As you do so, you will start to see the improvements in your revenue that you are aiming for.
Josh Weiner is chief operating officer of Solutionreach.