Guest Column | October 30, 2019

Ghosting In Healthcare: The Invisible Problem

By Jim Higgins, Solutionreach

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If you are a millennial, there’s a pretty good chance you are all too familiar with “ghosting.” In fact, a study found that an incredible 80 percent of millennials have been ghosted by someone they were dating. If you’re not familiar with this fairly-new lingo, ghosting is when someone you’re dating suddenly stops all forms of communication—without an explanation. Sound familiar? If you’re a healthcare professional, there’s a 99.9 percent chance you or your organization has been ghosted by a patient. You think things are going swimmingly when suddenly a patient seems to drop off the face of the earth. They fail to show up for a visit, don’t respond to reminders, or just simply disappear. Another pesky form of ghosting is when a new patient makes an appointment and then never shows up or responds to any communication from you. Both types are equally annoying!

And while being ghosted by someone you’re dating is rude and uncomfortable, being ghosted by a patient is very damaging to the financial security of your healthcare organization. It’s estimated that the cost of losing a single patient due to dissatisfaction is $200,000 over the lifetime of your practice. Ouch. That’s one expensive ghosting.

So what can you do to strengthen current patient relationships and reduce the chance of being ghosted?

Keep your finger on the pulse of the relationship.

If you’re totally surprised after being ghosted, this probably means that you weren’t paying close enough attention to that relationship. No one simply ends a relationship without a reason. It’s crucial that you keep a close eye on your patient relationships. When your patients walk out the door, did they have a good experience? If not, why? A great way to find out what patients are thinking is through regular patient surveys. Patient surveys show that you care enough to listen to a patient’s needs.

There are a few things to remember when sending a survey. First, the ideal time to do so is within 24-48 hours of a visit. This ensures patients will remember their visit and are more likely to leave a response. In addition, be sure to keep it nice and short. Surveys should take no longer than about five minutes to complete. Remember to update your surveys on a yearly basis. Finally, make sure to address needed changes that you discover through these surveys. Patients will be more frustrated if they have already conveyed concerns and you ignore them.

Make sure the fire is still burning when you’re apart.

Your patient relationships are essentially long-distance relationships. You typically see a patient only a few times a year. In order to keep a strong connection with patients, you need to find ways to connect between visits. This can be done through regular newsletters, social media, and even text messages. Newsletters should be sent monthly, or at least quarterly. They can include seasonal health tips, updates, and reminders. Even better, try targeting specific newsletters to groups of patients facing similar health challenges. That way you will be able to address their specific needs. Social media is a great way to show off your fun side. You can share amusing memes, silly pictures of the staff, and even giveaways. You can use texting to remind patients of needed care or to just check in on them. Through technology, staying in contact with patients has never been easier.

Don’t be difficult.

No one wants to be in a personal relationship that requires too much work. The same is true for patient relationships. You need to find ways to make the relationship as easy as possible. This is especially true for the most cumbersome and irritating parts of the patient journey, including things like appointment scheduling, the check-in process, and patient payment. Simplifying these elements of the patient experience options is highly desired by patients. So, streamline these needs by offering online scheduling, letting patients check in online prior to a visit and provide options to pay digitally. Just find ways to make your patient-provider relationship as easy as possible. It may surprise you how big of a difference small changes can make. And since nearly 61 percent of patients say digital services play an important role in choosing a physician, these changes could be the very thing that makes a patient choose you over a competitor.

Encourage open communication.

Finally, a relationship is only as good as its communication. If one person in a relationship does all the talking, it’s likely to fail. Make sure that your patients have an open door to communicate their questions, concerns, and feelings with you. Since texting is the preferred form of communication these days, you should offer the option for patients to text with you.

Seventy-three percent of patients want the ability to text back and forth with their provider, but the vast majority are unable to do so. This means you need to go beyond the standby “Text ‘yes’ to confirm appointment” type of text to allow patients to send any message they want. Providing the convenience of two-way texting can be the difference between a patient returning to your office and choosing another provider who will communicate with them the way they want to be reached.

Don’t let patient ghosting become a problem for your healthcare organization. Start today by making simple changes to improve your relationship with patients and avoid being ghosted. It’s worth the little bit of extra time and effort to make your organization something patients want to be a part of.

About The Author

Jim Higgins is the founder & CEO of Solutionreach. You can follow him on Twitter: @higgs77.