Since 2014, Hailey Sault has conducted several research projects surrounding patient choice. With each study, our results indicate that patients are more willing to switch providers based on a set of defined characteristics. This year, if trends hold, around 28 percent of patient populations may be looking for a new provider.

During this COVID time, we’ve also been polling patients around the country about  what they want to hear and how often they want to hear from their providers. Overwhelmingly, they’ve told us that they are hungry for content and guidance right now and are looking to their health care providers to provide it.  

Our newest polling project is centered around patient engagement and we are excited to share those results with you in the near future.

Watch our Campfire Session, Why Your Patients May Be Leaving Your Brand (And What To Do About It). Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 11/19/2020, Mike and I welcomed Chris Hemphill, Director–Client AI/Ops SymphonyRM, who helped us crunch some numbers and explore strategies surrounding patient loyalty and engagement.

We discussed:

  • Patient “churn”—exiting the health system—and how to predict it
  • Common reasons for patient churn
  • Revenue implications
  • Patient retention and engagement strategies

For context, here’s a little background on Chris

Chris works in the areas of data science and analytics for SymphonyRM. He explained that his company is focused on using AI and predictive modeling to inform patient engagement and move patient relationships forward. 

Chris also explained:

“It’s not just about predictions and data science. It’s how we all work together to make those things actionable, to develop creative and to develop outreach that ultimately influences behaviors.

I think the era we’re entering now is less about the technology and more about how do we use those things to drive engagement and further relationships.”

Defining patient churn and its revenue implications

  • “If you boil it down,” says Chris, “patient churn is really about predictability, a likelihood that someone is going to leave and no longer be engaged with your organization.”
  • With definable characteristics you can start to identify what is a patient’s churn risk.
  • Chris took us through the potential revenue implications of patient churn in a 12-month period, focusing on tiers that included patients who are: loyal, engaged, a risk, fading, and finally, disengaged.
  • His model included the churn risk for each patient category ranging from a four percent risk for those who are loyal to a 93 percent risk for those who are disengaged.
  • A quote from one of his colleagues is appropriate here: “Your existing patients are your competitors’ new patients.”

How do you decide who is engaged and who is at risk?

  • Many organizations use 24 months of inactivity as an indicator that their consumer has churned.
  • “The problem with that,” says Chris, “is that if you’re waiting until that period is terminated to start recapturing consumers, it is far too late.”
  • Chris has seen more aggressive organizations use an 18-month time period before efforts begin, but says the same concept holds true—it may be too late.
  • Instead, Chris recommends a more personalized approach to deciding who is at risk and engaging those individuals in a timely manner. The idea is to use data to identify frequency of use for an individual, as well as when that individual may become a churn risk.
  • Mike added that the idea of getting to something that is personalized is very difficult for organizations. “It comes down to time, resources and technologies,” says Mike.
  • A discussion took place about the fact we’ve known from research that patients want communication from their provider and that they trust that communication. 
  • Chris cited research by SymphonyRM that found patients are around 1.7 times more likely to click through to an email message if the sender is their physician as opposed to the health care organization.
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Predicting churn

1. Chris brought us through relationships that individuals have with brands, including contractual and non-contractual relationships, as well as discrete (something happening on a fixed basis) vs. continuous (something that can happen at any time) relationships.

2. Non-contractual, continuous relationships, such as health care, are the hardest industries in which to predict churn.

  • There is no hard contract cutoff date
  • No predicted fixed interactions

3. Predicting churn is based on interactions and the predictability of those interactions for the individual. 

  • Someone who interacts in a consistent and maybe less-frequent manner is at a lower risk for churn because an expected pattern of interaction has been established. 
  • Someone who may interact more frequently but then drops off in consistency, or drops off completely, is at higher risk for churn. No expected pattern has been established.

The real cost of losing patients

  • According to Chris, once people move away and develop loyalties to other organizations, it can cost between five to seven times more to engage them and get them back.
  • There is a continued effort by us as marketers to stay ahead of the curve. Chris validated what we know intuitively in marketing, which is: if we don’t have the messages out there and we don’t have the engagement strategies out there, ultimately, we’re not going to get the result we want—whether that’s a retention strategy or a grateful advocate patient strategy. It is a clear win-win when we can be proactive.

Engagement strategies

  • Mike talked about the need right now to focus on the engaged patient. 
  • “In this period of COVID they may not be getting care, yet engagement strategies for this particular group need to remain high. This is the group that we can probably affect most in terms of retention.”
  • What we are seeing coming from our Hailey Sault research is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 93 percent of consumers want to hear from their provider on a very consistent basis right now—once a week to even once a day.
  • Even if the message isn’t “Come in for care,” patients want to hear what their provider knows about COVID in their area. That message can be imparted with the secondary message being, “By the way, if you do come in for care you are going to be safe.”
  • Chris told us that the health care organization does remain the most trusted institution when it comes to health care information, making health care professionals and patient engagement professionals one of the first lines of defense against bad information people are getting from other sources.
  • Chris also explained that at the beginning of the COVID crisis a lot of organizations were conservative with their messaging while others aggressively messaged on even more channels than usual. “Even though people weren’t able to come in for services, they were extremely engaged with the communication.”
  • “It points to when a major crisis like this happens, people start looking to those trusted institutions such as health care,” says Chris.
  • When organizations don’t take an active approach there is a void and that void will be filled somehow, either by patient choice, by the competition or by forces outside of our control. As the ground keeps shifting, we must lean into the idea of engagement.
  • Chris pointed out that some institutions have adopted an “always on” strategy as opposed to going from “one off” to “one off” campaigns that target specific segments of the population. The first broad stroke against disengagement right now may be to consider how to reach as much of the population as possible with personalized communication to scale.
  • A way to accomplish that can be through the creative use of owned channels and content that resonates with where people are right now.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

1. Patient churn is really about predictability, a likelihood that someone is going to leave and no longer be engaged with your organization. 

2. With definable characteristics you can start to identify a patient’s churn risk.

3. The idea is to use data to identify frequency of use for an individual, as well as when that individual may become a churn risk.

4. Health care is one of the hardest industries in which to predict churn.

  • There is no hard contract cutoff date
  • No predicted fixed interactions

5. “Your existing patients are your competitors’ new patients.”

6. Once people move away and develop loyalties to other organizations, it can cost between five to seven times more to engage them and get them back.

7. The engaged patient group is the group that we can probably affect the most in terms of retention. In this period of COVID, engagement strategies for this particular group need to remain high.

Join Us for Our Next Campfire Session

We started the Campfire webinars in the early days of COVID-19 so colleagues could discuss the issues and opportunities impacting health care marketers. That was when we thought COVID-19 would be “here today, gone tomorrow.” Clearly, there’s still a lot to discuss. Join us and your colleagues for an upcoming fun and informative session soon. Click the link below to view past Campfires and to be notified of future Campfires.

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