Keeping patients happy and coming back is the focus of nearly every successful practice. Implementing techniques to make the patient experience better is a goal of most, if not all, healthcare providers. However, every practice encounters a patient now and then who expresses displeasure over something: a long wait, an inaccurate bill, or even feeling their care was inadequate. In the past, these patients could be appeased with a phone call or they could choose to find a new provider. But in the age of the Internet, these patients can often taken to social media and express their unhappiness. This can lead to negative reviews and derogatory comments that can damage your practice and your reputation. It can also impact your retention rate, and that impacts your bottom line.
If you take a little time to train yourself and your staff on a few simple techniques for dealing with unhappy patients, you’ll reduce the risk of an upset patient becoming a very vocal ex-patient.
Powerful Patient Retention Techniques
Don’t Over-react: When someone pushes one of our buttons, our immediate reaction is to retaliate. There is something in our human nature that wants to seek revenge for any wrong - real or imagined. Instead, when a patient says something inflammatory, take a step back and breathe. Ask for more information or clarification, and try to consider the patient’s point of view.
Switch Sides: When you try to see things from the patient’s point of view, you’re showing the patient that you care about their experience, but more importantly, you care about them. Research shows that 70 percent of patients leave a practice because they don’t feel appreciated. In a challenging situation, patients respond to being heard and appreciated. Retention rates can be positively impacted by this simple step.
Find the Win-Win: If you can see things from your patient’s point of view, you can understand their wants and needs in a given situation. Comparing their interests to your own, you can look for an opportunity to give both of you a chance to win. For example, discounting a bill shows you are willing to sacrifice a bit and share the pain. If your patient is complaining about a long wait time, simply handing them a gift card does nothing to resolve the problem. However, a gift card and a pledge to address the in-take time can make a huge difference in your rate of retention.
Apologize: It’s amazing how far an apology can get you. Most people just want to know that you heard them, that you sincerely listened, and that you genuinely care about their experience. Saying “sorry” can soften the mood and de-escalate a situation so that a good resolution to the conflict becomes possible.
Develop Empathy: Beyond seeing your patient’s side, it’s important to understand what caused a negative reaction in the first place. Empathy requires taking the time to listen and to “seek first to understand then to be understood,” as Stephen R. Covey put it. Empathy creates a type of solidarity between two parties that enables them to work together rather than in opposition.
Acknowledge They Are Right: It’s easy to be dismissive of a complaint. When a patient tells you the waiting room is a disaster, the best response is not, “Oh it’s not that bad.” Hear them out, or better yet, ask them for specifics. Maybe you’ve turned a blind eye or thought you’d get to that later. Listening does more for patient retention than almost any other effort. Paying attention to what your patients tell you and acknowledging that they are right is the big step in helping patients feel appreciated - a key to patient retention.
Listen Closely and Be Personable: No one enjoys dealing with an upset patient, but if you approach the task with a desire to help the patient as well as help the practice, the task becomes less daunting. Your patients should see you as their personal care provider, not some corporate entity that doesn’t care about their well being. Remember to approach any conflict as a person, not a company, so retaining that patient becomes personal.
Ask for Input: If a patient has a complaint, one of the best means of validating their concern is to ask for their help in resolving it. What would they do to speed up the check-in process? How would they organize the waiting area? Listen closely to their responses and make note of their suggestions.
Follow-Up: If you’ve ask for suggestions through patient surveys, you’ve created an expectation that something will change. Look to things that can be done right away, and also to those things that may take a bit more time. Keep your patients updated on the changes. Communication and patient retention go hand-in-hand, so don’t be afraid to let them know how you’re implementing their recommendations.
Say Thank You: When a patient brings an issue to your attention, you have an opportunity to improve your patient retention and improve the flow or function of your practice. This is something worth showing gratitude, and a heartfelt thanks is the way to go. Not only does this tell your patient you are listening to them, it also demonstrates that you believe your patients are a valuable resource.
Patient retention, even when patients may have a complaint, is really nothing more than applying the Golden Rule. Treating others the way you would like to be treated (not necessarily how they are actually treating you) keeps your focus simple and straight-forward, and keeps good patients coming back for years.
Learn more about making your practice a place patients want to be in our free checklist.