A winning formula for gaining patient loyalty

3 factors driving loyalty: Business lessons from the healthcare industry

December 3, 2013

If you need an example of an industry currently in flux, look no further than the U.S. healthcare. As the industry goes through a significant transformation, it’s more important than ever for organizations to understand what drives patients’ perception of value.

To learn more about patient loyalty, we recently surveyed 1002 Americans about what influences their choice of specialists and treatment facilities and on how they value their overall treatment. Our findings highlight the three factors that drive patient loyalty and offer insights for healthcare providers and any brand that provides face-to-face service:

  1. Reputation

Billions of dollars are spent every year on outdoor, web, print, and other types of advertising. But our data suggests that, at least in the healthcare space, advertising isn’t a significant driver of loyalty. Only 10% of the people asked indicated that ads and billboards have influenced how they choose a specialist. Even specialist bio cards (11%), in-clinic posters (16%), and specialist websites (40%) performed relatively poorly.

So how do people find and choose specialists? Word of mouth is the top factor: When asked about their top three choices, people indicated that they selected a specialist based on the information they got from other physicians (87%), friends (66%), and patient rating sites and reviews (50%).

Advertising has its place (and with effective ad testing, you can better ensure that your campaigns resonate with patients), but what people say about the quality of healthcare you provide and your brand matters more. And while reputation clearly influences patients, the question remaining for healthcare professionals (and for all brands) is the following: What factors do people consider when evaluating reputation? Who do they turn to when assessing if an organization is reputable?

Whether you’re in healthcare or in another service industry, your organization needs a deeper understanding of what gets people talking in a positive way if you’d like to capitalize on the power of word of mouth.

2. Expertise

We also asked people to rank the factors they considered when finding a treatment facility. Reputation (72%) once again came on top, but people selected the healthcare provider’s interest to the patient’s specific medical issue (60%) as the second most important factor, beating location (59%) and the ability to get appointment quickly (53%).

Our findings show that when it comes to health issues, patients want to be assured that the physician and the healthcare organization have the required expertise. While this finding doesn’t necessarily surprise us, it’s a good reminder that people want to know they are in good hands. Expertise is critical.

But how do people evaluate expertise? Is it through the physician’s certifications and the healthcare organization’s awards? Is it through the highest education level that the physician has attained? Do people look at the number of years that the physician and the healthcare provider have been in practice? These are important questions that healthcare professionals and organizations can explore with an online community of patients.

Like any brand that provides services to clients, healthcare organizations need to understand the dynamic factors that drive perceived expertise. With this information, you can optimize how you deliver your services and how you communicate with consumers and the general public.

3. Time

We asked people which top three elements they consider when assessing the value of the treatment they receive. “Time spent with a physician” (47%) was the top choice, narrowly beating the physician’s communication (46%) and listening skills (44%). Interestingly, time spent waiting to be seen or treated was a small factor, with patients indicating that it has very little affect on determining the value of their treatment.

How people ascertain value is a combination of several factors, but what our data highlights is the need to take your time when providing a service. People don’t mind waiting, but they will evaluate how you use that time with them once they have waited as a means to gauge the value of their visit.

How people perceive value can change over time; it can also change depending on the situation. For instance, the perception of value varies by internal department, clinical service, and patient demographic. That’s why healthcare providers and other service organizations need to listen to the voice of their patients/consumers  to determine what is seen as valuable within each of the applicable categories.

The bottom line is that as healthcare changes in many U.S. states, healthcare providers have a critical need to fully understand and answer “what is our value to the patient?” The way patients perceive value will change frequently as organizations prepare to deal with the evolving landscape of the industry. Through the use of an online patient insight community, the challenge of understanding what patients perceive as value can inevitably be answered, helping to ensure the success of your marketing campaigns, operational strategies, and satisfaction initiatives.

For more information about our study, please see the infographic below. 

 

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