I was talking with someone the other day about patient relationships, and thought that the main points may be helpful to some folks. (Here’s a link to the original LinkedIn post) I created this infographic to outline the 5 basic steps to developing strong patient relationships.
The 5 Steps to Developing Strong Patient Relationships
Here are 5 distinct stages of patient relationships:
- Attract & Acquire
- Amaze & Delight
Each stage requires a different communication strategy.
Attract & Acquire
Whether a patient is referred to your clinic by another medical provider, or if they hear about you through your marketing, your prospective patients start their relationship with you before you even see them.
You need to be proactive and intentional in your communication with patients that are in this stage of their relationship with you and your clinic.
Patients are no longer “prospects”. You don’t need to convince them to schedule that first appointment or interaction, but you do need to provide them reasons to become engaged in treatment.
At the first appointment, you or your clinician(s) took time to listen to the patient, to validate their experiences, and to answer their questions in a way that communicated empathy, understanding, and competence.
The next step is to seek input from the patient in the treatment planning process. Focusing on goals and objectives that are meaningful to the patient leads to greater engagement and experience.
Just because a patient schedules a follow-up visit (or two or three) doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. We need to make sure that we never take our current patients for granted. We must always take steps to ensure that they’re engaged and satisfied.
Amaze & Delight
You need to make good on those promises you’ve made in your message and marketing and during the initial appointment.
Ask your patients “Are we doing everything that you expect or desire to help your recovery?” or “Is there anything we can do to better help you meet your goals?” Taking the time to ask these questions really makes an impact on patients’ perspectives of the clinic.
There are 2 types of patient retention:
- Course of Care Retention
- Clinic Retention
Course of Care Retention means retaining a patient through to completing their plan of care. This should be one of the few key metrics that you focus on regularly. Patients that are engaged and are having good experiences in your clinic are more likely to finish their course of care. If you notice low numbers with plan of care completion, take a closure look at patient engagement and experience.
Then there’s Clinic Retention. This means repeat patients. These patients had a great experience, felt engaged in treatment, met their goals, and completed their plan of care. Now, perhaps they have another issue. They choose to return to you clinic (because they had such a great experience the last time). Now, obviously, we hope that our patients complete their plan of care in our clinics then go on to live a long, pain-free life. But, if they’re in a position where they need services again, we want them to think of us first, right?
You NEED to track these two types of patient retention! At the end of the day, lead generation (or drumming up referrals) covers up problems with patient experience, engagement, and retention.
Putting it All Together
When a patient walks into your clinic for their first appointment, you need to make good on those promises you’ve made in your message and marketing. You need to make sure that you never take your current patients for granted. Keep them actively engaged and make them feel valued and listened to. You must take steps to ensure that they’re engaged and satisfied (and if not, figure out how to fix it).
And finally, whether it be via social media, email marketing, or phone calls, you need to have some way of both following-up with former patients and maintaining that relationship. And then, look at your metrics: Low numbers in the areas of plan of care completion, returning patients, and cancelled appointments/no-shows indicate problems in the patient relationship cycle. Understanding this cycle is the key for any clinic owner or manager to increase retention, engagement, and returning patients. It all revolves around mastering these 5 steps.
Check out the infographic below that summarizes this concept:
How does your clinic intentionally form patient relationships? Share any additional resources that you found helpful in the comments below!
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Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L (Rafi) is the Principal Owner of Rehab U Practice Solutions and the host of The Better Outcomes Show. He has experience in a variety of rehab settings, working with patients recovering from a variety of injuries and surgeries. Rafi has worked in a variety of settings, from orthopedic and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, to academia, and even healthcare consulting. He spent the majority of his clinical experience working at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center, where he was the lead clinician and clinical education coordinator for the outpatient specialty rehab program. In this role, he treated many veterans with chronic pain and helped to establish an interdisciplinary pain management program. He has worked on projects ranging from patient engagement initiatives to marketing communication campaigns to a multi million dollar project assisting the State of Georgia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities transition individuals out of state institutions to community residences. He also has experience as a core faculty member at Augusta University’s Occupational Therapy Program, as a Licensed Board Member on the GA State OT Board, and he serves on the Board of Directors for NBCOT. He works to help healthcare clinics and organizations deliver uniquely impactful patient experiences by improving service delivery through training & advisement and through courses & training programs.