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What Does Patient Loyalty Look Like?

What Does Patient Loyalty Look Like?

Sometimes brand loyalty is easy to recognize. Check out the lines of Marvel film fanatics on opening night. Talk to an Apple aficionado or a Disney devotee. Of course, those brands have an instant advantage over healthcare organizations because—let’s face it—most people don’t have the same kind of positive associations with healthcare experiences as they do with a trip to the ‘Happiest Place on Earth.’ As a result, hospitals and other healthcare providers need to up their game when it comes to patient engagement and measuring patient loyalty.

Evaluating the Patient Loyalty Landscape

Before healthcare organizations can increase patient loyalty, they must address barriers to ongoing patient engagement. NRC Health took a closer look at the issue in its 2017 Healthcare Consumer Loyalty study, discovering that 40.37 percent of consumers say they have no loyalty to a specific hospital or health system.

Not surprisingly, the percentages shift along generational lines. The youngest consumers are the least loyal, at 48.12 percent. As utilization climbs with age, so does loyalty, with 67.54 percent of 65+ healthcare consumers professing loyalty to a specific hospital or health system.

Let’s look at other factors that influence loyalty:

  • Insurance acceptance sits at the top at 58.70 percent
  • Previous experience is a close second at 56.97 percent
  • Location holds the third spot at 51.79 percent

Additional reasons for patient loyalty include:

  • Doctor, nurse and staff quality
  • Compassionate, personalized care
  • Doctor recommendation
  • Reputation/brand strength
  • Affordability
  • Advanced technology/equipment
  • Recommendations by family or friends
  • System affiliation

Perhaps not surprisingly, the youngest—and typically, least experienced—healthcare consumers are between 10 and 22 percent more likely to value the opinions of family or friends compared to other age demographics.

Speaking with the AMA about the study results, NRC Health VP and general manager Brian Wynne warns that return customers do not equate to patient loyalty. Lack of awareness into alternative care options or insurance coverage can lead a patient back to a hospital or health system. In fact, says Wynne, “NRC Health research has found that convenience factors alone are enough to motivate 80 percent of patients to switch providers.”

Given the increased competition from innovative healthcare start-ups and retail clinics, along with initiatives to support cost transparency and improve health outcomes, Wynne notes, “Patients now have a better idea of the value they can get, and they are more willing to branch out and find a new provider if their current one disappoints.”

Enhancing Patient Engagement With Psychographic Segmentation

Numerous studies suggest that a mere 5 percent boost in customer retention can generate 25 to 95 percent greater profitability. And the value doesn’t end there. Patient loyalty yields more efficient, cost-effective care on the health system’s side and better outcomes and satisfaction on the patient’s side. But as the old business adage goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” What criteria should hospitals use?

Focusing on retention rates alone as a measure of loyalty can give healthcare organizations a skewed perspective. Why? Wynne cites a survey which revealed that 13 percent of patients would like to switch providers but can’t because of health insurance plan restrictions.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is a popular adage among business executives, but it’s equally appropriate in a healthcare setting. Measuring patient loyalty demands more than behavioral metrics. Instead, Wynne recommends measuring the “subjective building blocks of loyalty.” These include factors related to experience—convenient locations and appointment setting, easy bill management—as well as indirect brand exposure through community engagement, social media presence and family and friend recommendations.

Because healthcare experiences are so personal, it’s also crucial that hospitals and other healthcare organizations gain insights into the attitudes, beliefs and motivations that patients bring to their interactions with the health system. Psychographic segmentation provides those deeper insights, breaking healthcare consumers into five distinct types: Self Achievers, Balance Seekers, Priority Jugglers, Willful Endurers and Direction Takers.

Balance Seekers, for example, are open to alternative sources of health information and appreciate being given care options. Providing data that explains the ‘why’ behind a recommendation drives patient engagement and loyalty within this segment.

Direction Takers, on the other hand, respect credentials. The doctor is the health authority, and Direction Takers need specific instructions, as well as tips for integrating care plans into their daily lives.

The bottom line? Hospitals that rely on out-of-date approaches to drive patient engagement and measure patient loyalty miss out on significant opportunities. In addition to improving patient satisfaction and health outcomes, loyalty over a healthcare consumer’s lifetime equates to an estimated $1.4 million in profits per individual.

For more on psychographic segmentation and how it drives patient loyalty, download our whitepaper.

Psychographic Segmentation and its Practical Application in Patient Engagement and Behavior Change


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