E-patients, Part III: 3 Ways to Turn Good Outcomes Into Great Relationships

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “decision journey” patients take as they determine what cosmetic procedure they want and which doctor they want to perform it. Not surprisingly, the discussion tends to focus primarily on the steps between a patient’s initial interest and the door of his or her chosen practice.

But for patients, the journey doesn’t end with a consultation or even surgery. It extends beyond as patients recover and evaluate the impact their treatment or procedure has on their lives. The post-op stages also represent a prime opportunity for doctors to provide a better healthcare experience by ensuring that patients don’t feel alone during the recovery process.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly how many patients feel. According to a recent study by UK healthcare software provider Lumeon (formerly Qinec) on the U.S. market, just 35% of patients reported being contacted by their healthcare provider to check on their well-being after care. Further, when patients were asked what factors led to a negative treatment experience, the top two factors were lack of follow-up after care (46%) and empathy about their welfare (40%).

It’s not surprising that more patients said the level of follow-up care warranted improvement compared to every other part of their journey.

e-patients, follow-up care

As the report notes:

Patients often feel under-informed and that there is a lack of support, especially when it comes to processes after treatment. A ‘well organized and responsive service’ was most likely to maximize their perception of care and patients clearly want a seamless end-to-end healthcare experience.

The fact is that the internet has turned patients into e-patients, giving them the tools to explore multiple options, make more informed decisions, and subsequently share experiences. In this environment, a doctor’s medical skills are akin to table stakes—potential patients consider them a given—which means that practices need to differentiate in other ways. Providing a better post-op experience can help:

Post-care communication: According to the aforementioned study, 73% of healthcare providers claim to send out follow-up communications after treatment, yet only 35% of patients say they received such communication. Clearly, there’s a disconnect.

The first step to closing the gap is to a) determine how patients prefer to be contacted via a question or checklist on their intake forms, and b) use the appropriate channels to demonstrate your continued interest in their recovery. For some, that might mean a follow-up phone call from a nurse or patient care coordinator; for others, maybe an email with a link to a video that answers common questions.

Email marketing: You’ve probably heard that it costs three, four, or even seven times more to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. The reality is that the number differs for every business and industry, but the fact remains that your current patients represent your best prospects for future business. After all, the patient who comes in for Botox and has a great experience with your practice is more likely to consider you again when her thoughts turn to exploring other treatments or procedures, including Kybella, Juvederm, and even surgery.

The key is to keep in touch and email is the perfect platform to do so. Once patients have opted-in to accept your messages, keep your emails meaningful and use the tool to tell them about new products and services, special deals, upcoming events, etc. Be mindful not to overdo it, as overuse, boring messages, and sleazy tactics will quickly get your messages deleted or marked as spam.

Promote reviews and social content: As the field of cosmetic medicine evolves—less stigma, more non-surgical services—patients’ pursuit of their “better selves” is becoming more about health and wellness than one-off fixes, aka, “getting some work done.”

As a result, many of them remain active on social channels—over half of RealSelf users (56%) who have been on the site for two or more years still visit the site weekly—and they expect to see doctors there as well. And 49% say they use the site to find, learn, and connect with doctors often or all the time.

In that light, getting patients to post reviews takes on added urgency. On the simplest level, a one-time review provides exposure and social proof of your skills and expertise, but doctors who get patients to continue chronicling their experiences also accrue more tangible benefits. On RealSelf, reviews with less than three author updates generate an average of one new patient contact. Reviews with three or more updates generate 6.4 contacts.

As noted at the top of this post, it’s not surprising that most of the discussion around the patient journey has focused on the path between their online research and their chosen doctor’s front door. While facilitating that part of the journey is worthwhile, that approach alone does a disservice to both patients and the doctors who hope to serve them.

Instead, respond to the rise of the empowered patient by becoming an empowered doctor. Providers who are present and available before their patients’ care help make that path shorter, safer, and easier to manage. Those who remain so after that care can actually turn it into a self-sustaining loop.

Need more tips to stay engaged with your patients? Join our new webinar “Reach vs. Impact: Social Media and the Bottom Line” on April 25.

About Rob Lovitt

Rob Lovitt is a longtime writer and editor who believes every good business has a great story to tell. He has written for dozens of magazines and websites, including NBCnews.com, Expedia.com and the inflight magazines of Alaska, Horizon and Frontier airlines.

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