Going to the urgent care isn’t fun. Mostly because it means someone is sick, broken, or in pain. Sometimes it means their kid’s sick. That can be worse. They’re tired, anxious, impatient, and would like to be anywhere else. And they’re counting on you to make it better.
When they arrive with their sniffles and sprains, they lay an opportunity at your feet. In the few minutes they chose to spend with you and your staff, you can either prove that they made a good choice, or you can make them regret it.
Relationship marketing is all about making them feel good about their choice, and giving them a reason to choose you again. Remember they picked you in the first place. And providing a good urgent care experience means there may be a second date. And hopefully, a long-term relationship.
There’s a reason that most successful businesses focus on patient engagement. To be satisfied—even happy—today’s consumer wants a relationship. This is true of urgent care patients. They know they have choices. And if you don’t treat them right, they’ll break up with you and find someone else to make them happy. First impressions are like a first date. If you aren’t impressive, a patient just may lose your number.
Relationship is especially important to your business today, because healthcare has changed in big ways. Consumers have become accustomed to an on-demand, customized experience in all areas of their life. Medical care is no exception. Let’s take a look at the way patients have changed right along with the healthcare landscape.
The Changing Healthcare Consumer
In the past, most people had a primary care physician that was available most of the time without a long waiting period. Patients with more urgent needs were handled as a priority, and sometimes sent to a specialist or hospital for specific, emergency, or longer-term care. Without many options, patients understood the process, kept their expectations reasonable, and accepted the model.
Today patients have choices—lots of them. In fact, according to a 2015 Fair Health Report, many adults ages 18-44 are more likely to rely on urgent care when they’re in need of healthcare than a primary care physician. Only 43 percent said they would choose primary care. People who have lower salaries also said they would choose the convenience—and perceived lower cost—of urgent care clinics, retail clinics, and when warranted, emergency rooms. In addition, time has become a currency almost as valuable as money. Today’s patients expect care when they need it, without waiting for an appointment.
As an urgent care provider, you’re not trying to replace the primary care clinics in your area, but instead cultivate long-term trust that will lead patients back to you when the time is right.
Just because this new breed of healthcare consumer weighs its options, doesn’t mean they can’t commit to a relationship. And strong relationships begin with engagement.
Patient engagement begins before a patient walks in your door.
If you want to know how to build relationships, think about the way you begin relationships with friends—get to know who they are, what’s important to them, and what their kids do on the weekend. Watch, listen, and take note. Once you get to know them, you’ll understand them. You’ll know what’s important to them, and you’ll know how to best engage.
- Use advertising and marketing to introduce yourself as a clinic that understands their specific needs and shares their values. While most urgent care patients share the need for convenient, affordable, high quality care, research on the people and businesses in your vicinity will help you discover more specific wants and needs.
- Tell them about yourself with an interactive, information-rich website. Your home page should be well organized, position you as the best place for urgent care, and provide the essential information patients need—like location and phone number—right up front. Providing other patient resources and checklists online is an additional service that engages patients and adds value.
- Engage with them on a public scale with community service. People want to know that care providers share their values. By participating in community events and volunteering for local educational opportunities, prospective patients start to know who you, what’s important to you, and that you genuinely care about the surrounding neighborhood.
- Make it quick and easy to schedule an urgent care visit. With online or self-scheduling, patients can choose a convenient time to see the doctor. If online scheduling is not an option, be sure your front desk staff are accommodating, friendly, and transparent about wait times.
Engage patients during their visit.
In the same way you nurture a new relationship in your personal life, you have to show your patients you genuinely care—about their health, about their time, and about the things they value.
Put standard practices in place to make their visit more convenient, their time well spent, and their anxiety less palpable.
- Be nice. Greet them like you’re happy to see them. Look at them. Listen. Follow-up. Be empathetic. When you treat them like a person instead of a chart, they’ll remember, and they’ll probably want to come back.
- Be thorough. In urgent care, door-to-door time is important, but it should never outweigh patient care. Look beyond the obvious and make sure there’s nothing you’ve missed. Your EMR can help you to ensure you’ve thought of every possibility.
- Be genuine. Real engagement requires transparency. Let your personality shine through and be real about symptoms, diagnosis, and need for follow-up. When you’re genuine, you will make a real and lasting connection with your patients. And they’ll appreciate it.
- Provide exceptional care. As care providers, it’s easy to downplay the importance of minor injuries or illnesses, but if it wasn’t significant to a patient, he wouldn’t be seeking medical care. Be sure that no matter what the reason for the visit, you take patients’ concerns seriously and treat them with the best medical care available.
Keep the conversation going
If you’ve engaged a patient up through this point, the odds for a long-term relationship are good, especially after they begin to feel better due to your care—but there’s still more to do. Don’t sacrifice all the good will and trust you’ve built with a good customer visit experience with inferior follow-up.
- Provide follow-up recommendations. Send patients home with good advice, recommendations, and something to remember you by. In the urgent care industry, that may be immunization checklists for children, first aid booklets, or a free box of bandages. Be creative, but provide something useful and relevant, that will make their lives better.
- Suggest relevant resources. Position yourself as the healthcare expert in the neighborhood by suggesting relevant educational resources. Create a library of brochures about hot health and wellness topics, or provide a list of websites where patients may find out more about their specific issues.
- Get patient feedback. Many online engagement tools allow clinics to get post-visit feedback quickly and when the details of the visit are still fresh in patients’ minds. Through emails, text messages, and SMS surveys, patients can provide comments and opinions that will not only remind the patient that their opinion matters, but will also provide valuable information about areas where service policies or procedures may need a little work.
- Provide a timely response to post-visit questions. After many urgent care visits, patients will follow up with their primary care provider. In some cases, they may call back with questions about their visit or for additional guidance. You’ll earn their trust and keep them engaged if you take the time to respond to calls or emails promptly.
In the urgent care industry, building relationships is more important than it has ever been. It requires a patient-centric care model, two-way communication, and a commitment to keeping your customers satisfied and happy. Relationships take time, but once your patients get to know you, believe that you genuinely care about them, and exceed their expectations by providing value, they’ll be ready to make a commitment.
Fair Health (2015). Understanding Consumer Health Insurance Preferences. Retrieved from http://www.fairhealth.org/AdvancingOurMission?sk=Resource%20library#Resources for Consumer Engagement.