For hospital and health system strategists, the first step to preventing patient switching is to understand what is causing patients to shop around for health care.  

Over the past three years, Hailey Sault has conducted two comprehensive national patient choice research studies. The latest research, “Why Patients Switch: 2017,” was conducted in partnership with the research consultancy Frank N. Magid Associates. In an effort to discover why patients in mid-markets switch providers, 1,100 health care decision makers were interviewed.

We asked Marsha Hystead, partner and chief creative officer of Hailey Sault, and Kevin Stranberg, Director of Strategy and Patient Experience at Memorial Medical Center, the most common reasons why health care providers lose patients to the competition—and what to do to course-correct. Want to see the research right now for yourself? Find out #whypatientsswitch


Q: What questions should health care providers ask to learn why patients are willing to switch?

Hystead: They should ask, “How can we be more transparent when it comes to cost?” Realize that most people want an explanation of cost, not necessarily lower cost. One in four are willing to switch providers if you offer cost transparency.

Q: How can we get the right information from patients to learn why they switch?

Stranberg: There are a lot of different ways to get that information. We can get it from comments on patient satisfaction surveys, we can get it from talking with patients while they are here at the hospital. I think a third and key way is to interview them about their experiences. Use in-person or video interviews to bring back that information and reinforce the quantitative data.  

Q: What patient comments stand out as the lead motivators to switch providers? And why should hospitals pay attention to this?

Hystead: A large majority of open-ended answers have to do with being respected and listened to. People want to be part of the health care decision. They want their doctor to “know them.”

Q: How do you recommend bringing in patients for interviews?

Stranberg: So often people want to give their point of view whether it’s been a mediocre experience or positive experience. That’s how we get people involved, is we say that we want to hear your story. I think that is so much more important than thinking about what incentives people need to come in. I tend to like a panel of 3–4 people and generally speaking we get enough people to do those interviews because people want to tell their story. In a taped interview, it’s a little easier because you have control over what the final edit looks like.

Q: How can qualitative methods of research (such as interviewing patients), benefit and amplify quantitative, data driven research?

Hystead: The patient interviews bring the research to life. Understanding patient frustrations and then posing those questions in a live interview, validates the quantitative findings.

Q: Are health care providers starting to take the extra step to interview patients? And do they see the value?

Stranberg: The new innovative approach that is happening in a lot of hospitals is to say, “We need to ask our patients. We need to ask them before they leave here. We need to ask them on follow-up discharge phone calls and bring them in to interview them about that.” It is becoming an innovative practice to be doing real-time interviews with patients rather than just a satisfaction survey. We are getting smart on that, we are becoming much more sophisticated and innovative.

Q: What did we learn from the research by interviewing specific sub-groups by generation?

Hystead: Subdividing the results by generation is fascinating.  Some of the answers are surprisingly close across the generations, but others are miles apart. It makes a difference when you begin to plan connection strategies for service line promotions, etc. A large takeaway from the research is that patient care and communication are big drivers when considering switching providers. The way patients want to be cared for is vastly different across generations.

Q: How can a marketing department leverage this research to influence future marketing communication?

Hystead: It is very important to share the interviews with leadership and people who can make the changes necessary to impact the care. Live patient interviews in front of leadership are really powerful. So many things that leadership and physicians want to market, score very low on importance to patients. Awards and rankings scored the lowest in importance. This is a great tool to share. Compassionate care is a huge driver in patient importance. Show them what is most important to patients, according to the research. It validates what we know as marketers.

Q: How can organizations take what they learn from the data and interviewing patients and implement it, or take action?

Stranberg: I think it’s important there is an interdisciplinary approach. Look at departmental goals related to patient satisfaction and customer service and talk with them about whether they believe it’s important we bring in people to do interviews for a multi-faceted approach to this. Marketing can’t and shouldn’t be doing it on their own. It should be a group effort to drill down on this information. You don’t want to blindside departments—it’s not fair or effective and won’t result in real change. I think the debriefing after the interviews is to talk with those leaders and say, “What did you get out of that interview and what did you get out of that quantitative data and what difference do you think we can get out of it?” So it becomes a group thing about making change. 

ABOUT HAILEY SAULT: In business for 40 years, Hailey Sault specializes in health care and cause-related marketing communications. Its aim is to improve lives and create a healthier world. Its clients include challenger hospitals and health care facilities, as well as nonprofits leading the transformation of health and health care in America.

CONTACT: For further information, contact: Marsha Hystead, partner & chief creative officer, Hailey Sault, at (218) 728-3653 or