Report: Small Practices Can't Afford to Ignore Investments in Patient Experience - MedCity News

Many small healthcare practices across the country are tightening their proverbial purse strings amid rising inflation and a potential recession. Although practices are reluctant to spend extra money right now, investing in improving the patient experience may be worth it to give them an edge over the competition, according to report launched on Wednesday by the customer engagement platform Weaving.

To be competitive and maintain patient loyalty, small practices must consistently meet patient expectations and “be aggressive” about bringing those patients back to the office for ongoing treatments and regular checkups, Weave’s chief marketing officer said in an interview Chris Baird. Loyal patients who regularly return for care are most important to retain because they provide
the largest amount of revenue, the report declared—and they need a good experience to feel that sense of loyalty.

But many small health practice owners are struggling with rising costs by cutting staff hours, raising prices and increasing the number of appointments available each day, Baird said.

“With fewer staff now having to deal with a bigger workload, patients don’t feel like a priority when trying to get care,” he said.

Weave commissioned an independent market research firm to survey 360 small practices (those with fewer than 50 employees) and 1,040 patients. More than 60% of patients said they felt pressured, unheard, or ignored by a provider in the past 12 months.

But the financial performance of small healthcare practices will suffer if their owners let the patient experience slip away as a top priority, the report warns. Small practices are much more likely than hospitals or health systems to benefit from keeping patients loyal to their practice. Patients will often transfer their business to a competitor with a better office experience if they feel rushed or ignored, Baird said. It is important for practice owners to hold regular meetings where staff members can explain what they need to provide patients with comfortable and friendly service.

Small practices need to remember that patient expectations for convenience and experience are higher than ever, the report states. During the pandemic, patients have become accustomed to things like curbside check-ins and texting to confirm appointments. The convenience economy is steadily spreading its impact on healthcare, making it difficult for practice owners to ignore the patient experience, Baird said.

Patients are also getting into the habit of delaying care as many struggle with costs amid rising inflation. When choosing what investments to make in the patient experience, small practices should think about ways they can adapt to better serve more delayed patients, the report said.

“Evaluate your payment options and spend more time training staff to ‘close’ patients who may want to delay care. Many offices prefer to use a payment processing system that does not offer options customized to their patients’ needs,” said Baird.

Managing patient payment plans by digitizing paper forms and verifying insurance is a tedious job that most employees dislike, he pointed out. Baird suggested that practices adopt automated “buy now, pay later” software so that patients have more flexibility and providers have the upfront payments they need to properly manage cash flow.

Baird’s recommendations make sense, but do small practices really have the money for this right now?

According to him, the investment will pay off. Baird pointed out that many practices spend 20 hours of staff costs per week digitizing paper forms, still require their staff to make one-on-one appointment confirmation calls and rely on Post-it reminders to decide how to fill the cancellations. The cost of staff performing these tasks is rising, so automating these touchpoints with software has a tangible return on investment, Baird argues.

Photo: designer491, Getty Images

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