Why Our Patients Are Leaving Us

By Erin Jospe, MD, chief medical officer and SVP of  account management, Kyruus.

As clinicians, we pride ourselves on our ability to provide care that meets the clinical needs of our patients and to call upon our colleagues when their skills are needed. We advocate for our patients in word and deed, and we are committed to our common mission of caring for our fellow human beings with warmth, sympathy, and understanding as much as with scalpels and drugs. We took the Hippocratic Oath, and we execute upon it in a deeply personal way.

However, for something that is inherently so personal for many of us, it is shocking to learn that so many of our patients—60%, in fact—are prepared to switch to another provider. It feels like a betrayal, and we can’t help but feel hurt just a little if we continue to cling to the idea that healthcare should be more than merely transactional.

Healthcare consumer research shows that patients do continue to value the quality of their interactions and experiences with us, with 84% saying that our communication skills and approach are extremely or very important to them. Likewise, 88% of respondents hold our clinical expertise in the same regard. So why are so many looking for new providers?

The answer is access. Access in the form of a sooner appointment. Access in the form of online scheduling. Access in the form of a more convenient location, accurate insurance information, and insightful feedback from other patients like them. Access is what matters when it comes to where and with whom consumers choose to receive their care.

Being seen quickly is consistently one of the top priorities consumers cite when selecting a provider. Nearly 60% have searched for a provider who could see them sooner and 39% have actually switched to see a different clinician as a result. We can conclude from this that having alternative sites of care and delivery mechanisms that can accommodate this need for timeliness can, at a minimum, keep patients within our networks.

Because convenience is such a prominent driver in patient behavior, we need to embrace it by either creating space within our schedules – which is often nearly impossible – or integrating with other care modalities, such as through virtual visits and urgent care or retail clinics, when appropriate, to ensure our patients’ needs are met.

Patients are increasingly willing to be seen through these alternative modalities when pursuing their care, with a third of patients having been seen in a retail clinic and 44% at an urgent care center in the last year.

An additional almost one-third of survey respondents have received care before through a virtual visit and are willing to switch providers to have the ability to book virtual visits in the future. We should think about how to construct a more friction-free way for our patients to prioritize convenient care and reconsider our willingness to incorporate these modalities within our care models.

While speed as a priority translates to being seen sooner, speed also means the speed of the scheduling process itself. More and more patients across age groups prefer online scheduling to phone scheduling and providers offering online scheduling are rated more favorably in Press Ganey surveys compared to their peers.

While more than half of Millennials and Gen Xers who prefer online booking say they would switch providers to have access to it, 33% of Baby Boomers, up from 18% in 2018, now also say the same. With this being the case, shouldn’t more than 47% of providers who don’t currently offer online scheduling be more than somewhat interested in this functionality?

Though the numbers still remain high for patients continuing to schedule their appointments over the phone, we should pause to consider that only 50% of those calls actually result in an appointment being scheduled. More concerning still is that two-thirds of those with appointments booked reported feeling uncertain that the provider they booked with would meet their clinical needs.

Despite the fact that our primary purpose as clinicians is to provide care to the best of our judgement and ability, the match between our skills and the clinical need of the patient remains uncertain at the time of scheduling distressingly often. If we are ever to return to a more joyful practice of medicine and, in so doing, create a more positive patient experience, both patients and providers must have greater assurance that clinical need and clinical expertise are aligned.

Yes, we need to embrace access as a driver of provider selection, and yes, we need to be far more forward-thinking in meeting consumer expectations for convenience. But let’s also consider access to the information that is necessary to increase the likelihood of a patient accurately selecting clinicians who can best meet their current clinical scenario.

Just as we use technology to help us speak to a consumer’s need for convenience and timely scheduling, we should embrace ways of surfacing accurate, comprehensive data about ourselves and our clinical strengths to better align with patient needs.

Creating an accurate, robust digital presence can help not only to ensure our patients are appropriately selecting us for their clinical scenarios, but also to schedule in a way consistent with their need for accessible information and care. Rather than wondering why our patients are leaving us, we can provide them with reasons to stay.

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