Are you following these 3 golden rules for stickier patient relationships?

Patient-centered care isn't new. Health systems, hospitals and private practices around the country are constantly developing creative ways to improve patient experience. As digital technology and consumerism reshape the business and delivery of healthcare, it's imperative to know who the patient is, where the patient is and what the patient wants.

In a Jan. 31 webinar sponsored by Envera Health and presented by Becker's Hospital Review, Erinne Dyer, executive vice president of growth at Envera Health, as well as Jill Austin, chief marketing officer, and Megan Pruce, vice president of business-to-business marketing and communications, both at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., discussed solutions to create loyal patients and stickier relationships.

"The pending merger between CVS and Aetna sparks a fundamental question: Who is going to lead the relationship between consumers and the healthcare they need and want?" Ms. Dyer asked. As patients begin using online tools to compare healthcare prices and services, it is important for health systems and hospitals to ensure they are meeting their patients' needs. Not only should customers come to a provider for information or treatment, but providers should also seek ways to strengthen patient-provider relationships.

Ms. Austin and Ms. Pruce discussed three strategies to create an improved patient experience. To come up with these strategies, they surveyed women ages 24 to 54, noting women as the chief of some households, about their ideal patient and consumer experience. In the end, the survey revealed this group of patients and customers are driven by three central ideas.

1. "Near me" — convenience and access. For many consumers, getting healthcare is about convenience: when and where they can get it. "When we think about millennials, we know a little under half tell us they don't want to have a long-term primary care relationship. They are more interested in something very convenient and immediate," said Ms. Austin. She noted the generational shift toward a more on-demand lifestyle, from online banking to 24-hour shopping, is infiltrating healthcare. Millennials see convenience as top priority in healthcare.

To make healthcare more convenient to consumers, Ms. Austin stresses the importance of access. Investing in walk-in clinics in various communities is one solution to provide more access. Additionally, offering additional hours outside of the normal work day when patients can get care creates even greater access that patients may not be offered through other providers. For example, delivery models allowing physicians to travel to patients helps improve care access to patients who are unable to travel, and also establishes strong bonds between the patient and provider.

Employers are also seeking out more convenient access to care for their employees. Ms. Pruce discussed employers partnering with providers to develop clinics specifically for their employees. Through more healthcare opportunities for employers and their families, a better knowledge and understanding of healthcare is passed between provider and patient. Focusing on the patient, hours and hospitality services creates an improved patient experience and attracts potential customers.

2. "For me" — personalized experience. Patients today expect more personalized care experiences. At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Ms. Austin and Ms. Pruce developed strategies for thinking about the patient experience beyond his or her time in the medical center. It is important providers to reach out to patients when they're not in the healthcare setting, whether personally or in a mass format. Email and social medial are both simple yet effective ways to interact with customers beyond speaking with them in the waiting room or through an organization's website.

Additionally, providers need to be where the consumer is searching online. Physical and online presences are equally important. "80 percent of all health-related searches start online, so it is really important to own the first page of Google," Ms. Austin said. "This first page presence can be done through paid search ads, organic search engine optimization and paid listings to ensure accurate and timely information."

Customers also pay attention to a health center's online reviews and reputation. Customers treat reviews and star ratings like suggestions and warnings from close friends and family.

"Thinking through the lens of our network and the management patient population that we have responsibility for, we are trying to improve health plan trends — both cost and utilization," said Ms. Pruce. "This creates a constant need to make sure patients on these plans have all the information available to them to help them identify providers and practices that are for them."

3. "Know me" — extra-office relationships. Patients said they wanted health systems to be proactive through checking up on them between visits. Additionally, Ms. Austin and Ms. Pruce found patients want to form relationships with their providers beyond their immediate healthcare needs. Creating bonds with patients is not limited to in-person interactions. At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, providers have found posting healthy recipe posts and useful vacation tips are effective ways to solicit patient interaction. The idea is for the resource to be all about the consumer, from finding the best place to receive care, to caring for themselves in their homes.

Conclusion
From Uber to Apple to Amazon, patients expect the same type of assistance, support and convenience they receive from these three giants in their search for healthcare. The size of the health system, hospital or practice does not matter; instead, a patient is looking to be valued and prioritized. While it may be challenging to make every consumer and patient a provider's No. 1 priority, keeping a finger on the pulse of customer trends, aligning around shared goals between customers and centers, and filling the gaps between healthcare visits for stickier patient relationships are three initial steps providers can take to achieve consumer optimization. A patient's loyalty cannot be bought, but is earned through a foundation of brand trust. So, remember the golden healthcare rule: Treat patients the way you would want your family member to be treated.

Listen to the webinar recording click here. View the webinar slides click here.
To learn more about Envera Health, click here.

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