Declining patient volumes

Are your patient volumes dwindling? Here’s why & what you can do to stop it

Have you noticed a decline in patient numbers? Are you seeing less & less of even your most loyal patients?  

Retaining patients has never been easy. There are always going to be patients who move cities or countries, change medical aids & switch to doctors covered by their plan & others who just slip through the cracks.  

Aside from these ‘normal’ losses, the digital age has also had a significant impact on patient loyalty. Patients are inclined to use their mobile devices to compare practices. They seek out referrals online & check reviews. And there are those patients who would rather find a new doctor than sit in the waiting room longer than 20 minutes. Whatever the reason, patient loyalty is harder to come by than ever before.

Here are 3 reasons why patient loyalty has decreased & what you can do about it.

1. Ignoring the shift of patient ‘convenience’ loyalty

Your patients might adore you, but if your practice doesn’t conveniently fit into their lifestyle, they will look for a practice that does. Patients value convenience – it’s that simple. 

What can you do about it?

Patients have become accustomed to certain conveniences, so much so that they are now expectations. Does your practice offer key conveniences patients want? Here are a few for you to consider:

  • Offer an online booking platform: Patients don’t want to call the practice & go back & forth to find an available appointment that suits their schedule. You can win their loyalty by making it quick & easy to book a consultation. It should take no more than a few minutes to get their appointment in your calendar & importantly, it should be able to be done at any time or place on a mobile device. For more about the prevalence of online booking in SA, click here.
  • Offer convenient Telehealth appointments: Telehealth consultations are the epitome of convenience. Patients lead busy lives & one of the most common reasons for missing appointments is because they can’t make it to your practice on time. Telehealth means that patients can either opt outright for a virtual consult that suits them or if they do find themselves running late, they can switch to a Telehealth consult to not miss their appointment. 
  • Make paying easy: A powerful way to win patient loyalty is to make paying easy & convenient. Consider contracting in with medical aids so that patients don’t have to pay out of their pocket at the time of service.  Another way to make payments easy is to offer cardless payment options like Snapscan. That way payment is done in a few simple taps on their mobile phones. 
  • Communicate by text: Patients appreciate quick courtesy reminders & text-based communication. The most convenient way to keep communication channels open is with appropriate SMSes & emails. Not only will it boost patient loyalty & keep patients coming back to your practice, but it also fosters a more personal doctor/patient relationship. Types of communication you can consider: 
    • SMS reminders for upcoming appointments: Make sure your patients are reminded of the date & time of their next appointment & encouraged to return. While this may not seem vital, it is one of the most common causes of patients not coming back for further treatment. 
    • Follow up after the appointment: Compliance has always been a challenge. You want to show patients that you are invested in their health & wellbeing so it’s a good idea to send an email or SMS to ‘check in’ & remind them to stick to their treatment plan. 
    • Birthday wishes: Sending a simple, but personalised, SMS to a patient on their  birthday adds a personal touch that goes a long way in ensuring patient loyalty & ultimately, their return to your practice

2. Not taking advantage of tools to strengthen relationships

Medical practices can’t just rely on the skills & bedside manner of exceptional doctors & staff. Retaining patients means keeping up with changing patient expectations of convenience & understanding how patients use technology to seek out healthcare. Even five years ago, you probably wouldn’t have worried about whether or not your practice is listed on Google MyBusiness or if you have a basic website. Now? It’s almost expected.

Remember that more than half of patients use their mobile devices to compare practices & practitioners. It’s easy to find healthcare professionals that have ‘better’ reviews & ratings, &/or more convenient operating hours, locations etc.

What can you do about it?

Establish an online presence. Patients are looking for service providers close to them, & who offer what they’re looking for. They want all the relevant information they need in a single search to decide to book an appointment. If you don’t make use of your online presence to do this work for you, you are ignoring an unnecessary obstacle between you & new & old patients.  Here are some ways to build your practice’s online presence: 

  • Google MyBusiness: Get a listing to make sure that important information about your practice such as location, operating times & contact details come up in the first search results on Google. You can even link your website & online booking platform to your listing so that patients can book a consultation in seconds. 
  • Website: Google listings are important but it’s even better to have both a listing & a website. Your website doesn’t have to be an enormous tome of information & original content. Keep it simple – make your practice information front & centre, tell patients a bit about yourself & the services you offer in a neat, concise way that creates the impression that you are an established, reputable practice. 
  • Social media: social media is also a great way to share news about your practice. For instance, if the practice is closing early on a specific day or if you’ve got a new service offering. Although you should be careful as to what advice you offer online, it’s a good opportunity to encourage patients to make an appointment for an in-person consultation.  

For an easy-to-use cheat guide, click here.

3. Failing to enable a seamless patient experience 

Running a medical practice can be complicated – especially when it comes to admin & billing. Plus medical practices are often divided into various roles, with each person responsible for different aspects of patient management. Often there is a lack of communication between personnel. Therefore, for there to be harmony, it is essential that all systems containing patient information ‘speak’ to each other so all personnel have the same view of the patient.


What you can do about it

  • Invest in cloud-based software: Cloud-based practice management software means that you & the relevant staff are all working from the same, real-time information. This information is captured once & updates will be applied across the system, so the chances of misinformation or mistakes are greatly reduced. 
  • Ensure your EMR & practice management software are integrated: When your EMR & practice management systems are integrated it eliminates any data discrepancies between the two systems. This means that all functions from clinical care to billing to follow-up is clean, convenient & ideally goes unnoticed by your patients – they aren’t impressed by the technology, they’re impressed by professionalism & efficiency.


In today’s consumer-driven market, if you’re not offering convenience & a seamless experience you are losing out on the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your patient base. The bottom line is that now is the time to start improving your practice’s patient retention rate. But you don’t have to do it all alone. Healthbridge has been helping medical professionals run their best practice for two decades. We have an in-depth understanding of what it takes to make a success of your business. For more information, or for a complimentary practice health assessment, click here & start exceeding patient expectations today. 


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