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Editor's Note: This blog was published prior to the transition to WebMD Ignite.

Engaging your customers at a deeper level involves building an ongoing relationship, and retention is critical if you want to keep that relationship going. However, customers now have an abundance of choices and are rapidly increasing their standards for care.

With the growth of customer-centric retail and technology organizations, consumers have grown to expect more convenience, choice, and a personalized experience. To keep these customers, you need to think about engagement in the same way that retailers and tech companies are.

A good way to start is by benchmarking and analyzing your current strategy. But before we dive into that, let’s cover some of the basics behind patient retention.

What is patient retention?

Patient retention is about ensuring that patients continue to return to your practice indefinitely, or at least, for as long as they need medical care.

You may lose patients due to a variety of factors – maybe they switched to a competitor, they’re too busy to engage with their own health, or they moved away from your service area. Some of these are out of your control, but the majority can be controlled by your organization through an effective retention strategy.

Mercury Healthcare’s analysis shows that new patients with a personalized marketing interaction are 35% more likely to be retained. Health systems need to build a retention strategy that predicts what the patient needs and engages them accordingly, ensuring that they become loyal, long-term consumers.

The benefits of retention for providers and patients

There are several benefits of retention, not only for the healthcare provider but also for the patient’s health outcomes. For the provider, these benefits include:

  • Increased revenue: The more patients you retain, the more likely they are to use your services. For every 1% increase in retention, there is a 4% improvement in the projected patient lifetime value. Beyond that, every 1% change in annual retention results in 2% increase in value over 5 years.
  • Increased referrals: Loyal patients are also more likely to refer your brand to friends and family, increasing brand awareness and engaging new prospects.
  • Cost-effectiveness: Acquiring new patients is more time-intensive and costly than retaining existing patients. An effective strategy will balance acquisition with retention for the highest ROI.

Patients also reap benefits from staying with the same provider. With consistent wellness visits, their provider team can deliver improved preventive care. Building a lasting, trusting relationship also means patients are more likely to adhere to clinical recommendations and clinical care management protocol.

Ultimately, retention improves continuity of care and leads to better health outcomes and increased satisfaction.

4 steps to analyze your existing retention strategy

Taking all demographics, service lines, and entry points into account, the average 5-year new patient retention rate is 43%. In any other industry, that would be considered a very leaky funnel. How does your organization stack up by comparison?

To find out, you need to analyze your retention strategy. Retention analysis helps you to see:

  • What your retention rate is and how it’s affecting your bottom line
  • Why patients aren’t returning
  • How you can improve your retention strategy

Let’s dive into how to get started:

1. Choose a timeframe and cohort

Begin by defining a certain cohort of patients. For example, you may use a general cohort of patients that visited your health system in a certain year (for example, 2018).

Because different groups of patients have different characteristics and behaviors, analyzing all patients at once won’t reveal much. Instead, it’s beneficial to define a more targeted cohort based on a patient persona or in a specific timeframe (especially if you changed your retention strategy at some point). This will give you a better understanding of their behavior and why they aren’t returning.

2. Look at historical data

Once you have a cohort, take note of when those patients first entered your health system. If a patient visited in 2018, they may have already had a previous relationship with you. A patient that’s visited you for 10 years is more likely to return than a patient that visited you for the first time.

This historical data will give you perspective on when they joined and enable you to see whether any strategic changes over that time have affected your patient’s behaviors.

3. Watch their activity going forward

Then, track the patient’s activity on your EMR. Since we’re looking at patients from 2018, we will have a lot of existing data to work with.

  • Year 1: A patient should visit you again anywhere from 7 to 365 days after their 1st visit
  • Year 2: A patient should visit you within 365 days of their 2nd visit
  • … and so on until we reach the present day.

If there are updates in the EMR, the customer is still engaging. If there are no updates for a year or longer, you’re at risk of losing them. This is especially true if a patient goes silent within a year of their first visit.

4. Interpret your results

Now that you have all of the data, you can track how many patients are engaging 5 years later vs. not engaging. If the number is 43% or lower, you need to start taking action now. If it’s above 43%, you’re doing better than most – but you still have your work cut out for you when it comes to competing with other industries.

There is always room for improvement when it comes to retention, and analyzing the effectiveness of your strategy is the first step toward enhancing it.