I have a confession to make: I have a not-so-secret “thing” for epic tales. King Arthur? Love it. Lord of the Rings? Yes, please. Game of Thrones? You betcha. If it has swords, wizards, and a medieval setting, then you can count me in. While I find it difficult to pinpoint a single reason for my fondness of these stories, one thing that draws me in is the loyalty and devotion their heroes have to a chosen cause. The knight who is ever-committed to an impossible task is a frequent trope in these tales, and as I read them, I am often imbued with that same sense of loyalty.

While these stories are primarily works of fiction, one thing remains true: loyalty is crucial to accomplishing any lofty task—whether that be running a rehab therapy practice amid shrinking payer reimbursements or overcoming pain and injury to achieve healthy function. Without loyalty, you—and your patients—might as well wave the white flag of defeat. With that in mind, let’s dig a little more into the principles of patient loyalty—and what your practice can do to cultivate it.

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What is patient loyalty?

Before we talk about fostering loyalty, we must first understand what it is. You know that feeling after you’ve had an incredible customer service interaction? It’s an endorphin rush that often inspires you to tell your best friend about your awesome experience and—if necessary and possible—return to the same business again in the future. That’s loyalty, and it happens with rehab therapy patients, too.

Loyal patients promote your services.

When a patient is loyal to a certain therapist or practice, he or she jumps at the chance to tell people about his or her care experience. And whenever patients speak to friends or family members in need of similar services, those patients are quick to recommend their favorite practice—and that sort of word-of-mouth marketing is powerful stuff.

How powerful, you ask? According to a 2015 survey from Nielsen, 83% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations—a percentage that’s significantly higher than that associated with any other form of marketing. And when you consider that 72% of consumers will share a positive experience with six or more people (according to thinkJar), that translates into a lot of free—and effective—advertising.

Loyalty isn’t the same as patient satisfaction.

As I mentioned before, loyalty inspires people to take action. Loyal patients want to ensure the success of the provider or practice to which they feel loyal. On the other hand, patient satisfaction—though a crucial piece of the patient loyalty puzzle—is a bit more ambiguous. If a patient has a satisfactory experience, it implies that, at the very least, expectations have been met. But merely meeting a patient’s expectations isn’t going to make him or her a believer. Thus, you never really know whether you can count on that patient to keep coming back. As we mentioned in this post, “Satisfied patients stick around until they find something better or more convenient; loyal patients will choose you time and time again—and recommend that their friends and family do the same.”

Why do you need to pay attention to it?

You know you deliver excellent service. Heck, maybe you even track patient outcomes, thus proving your efficacy as a provider. But the fact is, if you’re not tracking loyalty, then your patients might not be as loyal as you think. According to research conducted by the Altarum Institute, healthcare providers estimated that around 22% of patients left care due to dissatisfaction with treatment or service. However, nearly 60% of patients cited dissatisfaction with care as their reason for switching providers. Theoretically, that means providers could cut patient attrition by half if they committed to proactively tracking patient loyalty and addressing patient concerns before those concerns resulted in dropout.

Loyal patients are a rich source of referrals.

And loyalty tracking doesn’t just help you retain current patients—it also helps you draw in new ones. As I mentioned before, loyal patients are a great resource for the kind of word-of-mouth marketing that money can’t buy. Additionally, loyal patients are more likely to return to you should they need therapy or wellness services in the future. That means more revenue for your practice—but more importantly, it means greater health gains for your patients. That’s because loyal patients are more likely to:

  • stick to their plans of care;
  • communicate concerns or limitations; and
  • ask questions throughout treatment.

Every provider should strive for this kind of open dialogue with all of his or her patients. That’s because—in addition to indicating a patient’s level of investment in therapy—a patient’s ability to be open and honest with his or her therapist speaks to that patient’s level of trust, which is another important ingredient to the loyalty recipe.

How can you foster patient loyalty?

Shine a marketing spotlight on your expertise.

If you’ve ever taken a writing class, then you’ve likely heard the old adage, “Show, don’t tell.” But when it comes to instilling patient loyalty, you need to show and tell. A longtime patient may know that you’re an amazing therapist, but new and prospective patients might need a little more convincing. As this whitepaper from Gallup states, loyalty “requires that patients feel, either through direct experience or second-hand information, that using a particular hospital is at least as likely to result in positive medical outcomes than the other options that may be available to them.” That’s why it’s important to leverage data derived from outcomes tests, Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) tracking, and satisfaction surveys—and highlight that information on your website, social media pages, and other marketing assets. That way, potential patients know they’re more likely to achieve their health goals when they choose your practice instead of the competition.

Create meaningful interactions with patients.

As with any relationship, communication is the cornerstone for building trust and creating rapport between providers and patients. In this post, WebPT’s Erica McDermott explains that there are six types of conversations therapists should have with every patient:

  1. Explanation of policies and procedures
  2. Rapport-building conversations
  3. A conversation to establish goals
  4. The “why patient participation is important” conversation
  5. Progress—or lack thereof—updates
  6. The post-treatment steps discussion

Every interaction you have with your patients is an opportunity to get to know them better as well as further gain their trust. And as I mentioned before, trust is just as crucial to fostering patient loyalty as patient satisfaction and health outcomes.

Engage with patients between appointments.

That said, the conversation shouldn’t end once the patient walks out the door. After all, when you consider the fact that 20% of PT patients stop coming to therapy within the first three visits and 70% never complete their course of care, you never really know if it’s “goodbye” or just “see you later.” However, if you maintain an open line of communication, even when the patient isn’t right in front of you, it’ll give that patient an opportunity to voice questions, concerns, or frustrations that occur outside—or perhaps even inside—of your clinic. And that makes it much easier for you to promptly address any patient issues that could otherwise lead to dropout.

But, how can providers maintain communication without spending half their time responding to emails and talking to patients on the phone? Well, you can easily keep patients engaged by:

  • sending automated patient appointment reminders to prevent patients from missing scheduled appointments;
  • using an interactive, digitized home exercise program (HEP) platform that allows patients to message you directly with any questions;
  • collecting satisfaction and loyalty data between appointments (more on that in a bit);
  • distributing relevant educational content via email;
  • creating email marketing campaigns to reactivate past patients.

Even better, if you use patient relationship management (PRM) software like WebPT Reach, you can easily do all of those things within one easy-to-use system—and totally automate the process.

Collect—and incorporate—patient feedback.

The need to be heard is pretty universal. Chances are, some of your patients have suggestions, ideas, or concerns they want to share with you. When providers listen to patient feedback—and incorporate it into treatment when applicable—it makes those patients feel valued. The problem is, not every patient will be forthcoming when he or she has feedback. That’s why it’s crucial you provide patients with a dedicated space for supplying honest feedback. Some practices use a satisfaction survey to meet this need. However, satisfaction surveys are often vulnerable to environmental bias, meaning patients are less likely to leave honest feedback when they complete the surveys on site.

Measure loyalty throughout the entire course of care—not just at discharge.

Additionally, some practices only distribute satisfaction surveys at the conclusion of care, but when you consider that only 30% of patients actually make it to a formal discharge, you’re likely missing out on valuable feedback from a whole lot of patients. After all, the information you glean from patients who drop out of care will help you take meaningful action to prevent dropout in the future. And if you get that information early enough, you may even be able to intervene and prevent the patient from actually dropping out.

Use the right tool.

Still, even if your practice solves for bias and distributes satisfaction questionnaires at regular intervals, satisfaction data does not necessarily account for patient loyalty. That’s why we recommend using a trusted loyalty tracking tool like the Net Promoter Score® (NPS®). That way, you can collect actionable feedback from all patients—not just your most satisfied ones—and use it to create a better patient experience.

The Code of Chivalry—that is, loyalty, honesty, honor, and valor—has faded into legend with the Arthurian tales of yore. Still, one timeless tenet remains: loyalty is an important, yet often under-appreciated, quality. And while your patients aren’t off fighting dragons, the personal battles they face throughout the duration of care are nothing to scoff at. However, if you can instill loyalty in your patients—and find actionable ways to track that loyalty and incorporate feedback—it makes the fight just a little bit easier. After all, no one should have to go it alone.

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