Growth Strategy For Doctors: Treat Your Patients as Customers

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According to a recent survey by healthcare recruiting firm Jackson & Coker, physicians are now delaying retirement due to the recent recession. A survey of 522 physicians revealed that fifty-two percent were changing their retirement dates. Within this group, seventy percent said they planned to work longer in order to compensate for the deterioration of their investment portfolios.

This trend underscores the importance of patient retention. For most companies, customer retention and loyalty are paramount to increasing revenue and generating a higher return-on-investment. The general consensus is that retention and loyalty programs are cheaper than other initiatives to acquire new customers. Frederick F. Reichheld, a fellow of the management consultancy Bain & Company and a consultant whom The Economist magazine describes as the “the high priest of the loyalty cult,” states the following:

The best predictor of top-line growth can usually be captured in a single survey question: Would you recommend this company to a friend? Surprisingly, the most effective question wasn't about customer satisfaction or even loyalty per se. In most of the industries studied, the percentage of customers enthusiastic enough about a company to refer it to a friend or colleague directly correlated with growth rates among competitors.

So should medical practices employ successful strategies from other industries? Absolutely! And the reality is that they will have to in order to compete in the future. Our nation's patient population is shifting while the stability and permanence of recent legislative changes are tenuous. As a result, the need for a steady influx of new patients critical to a practice's survival.

Studies show that approximately seventy percent of patients leave their physicians because of a perceived attitude indifference. This does not mean that explicit rudeness was involved but rather the feeling of being ignored or rushed. Astute providers know that they cannot take their patient population for granted. The following are just a few examples of ways in which physicians can retain patients, and, hopefully, attract referrals.

1. The Office as a First Impression. Is the office clean? Is it cluttered? Is the staff dressed appropriately?

2. Stay on Schedule. People dislike having to wait to see their doctor.

3. Treat Patients and Family Member with Respect. While this seems obvious, recent data suggests that the mentality of "Physician as God" alienates patients.

4. Listen to Patients and Answer Their Questions. Take the extra time to really focus on what your patients are saying. Many just want their fears assuaged.

5. Use Patient Satisfaction Surveys to Identify not only Flaws but Successes as well.

Behavioral science applied with empathy and sound business fundamentals can improve your service delivery. Simply, it can change the impression that your patients remember, refer back to, and pass on to future customers.

Tommy King is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of www.medicalgroups.com. Tommy's deep and unique knowledge of healthcare economics comes from several years of working with physician groups, commercial and governmental payors, practice managers, and professional healthcare investors from leading institutions across the country. Prior to medicalgroups.com, Tommy was Director of Sales and Marketing for MedVision, a California-based RCM company. During this time, the company was recognized as one of the fastest growing private companies in Southern California by the Orange County Business Journal.