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We’ve been talking a lot lately about the impact COVID-19 has had on urgent care. You’ve had to rethink and restructure how you work. While some of you cut hours, others were pushed to the limits with an influx of patient volume.  Either way, urgent care has changed along with patients’ expectations.

Every new patient you see has the potential to become a repeat patient. And as COVID-19 testing wanes, it’s important to supplement your revenue with other types of visits. So how do you retain patients in a world that has been turned upside-down?

Aside from delivering exceptional care, getting people to come back is all about impressions and engagement. Here are some helpful approaches to both.

Start before the patient comes in

Whether you’re trying to attract new patients or trying to get existing patients to come back, their impression of you during the decision stage plays a critical role in repeat business. Here’s why:

For first time visits: Obviously, you want to represent your clinic in a way that wins business to begin with. But if you can impress people before they even walk through the door — with things like online registration, mobile technology, and even in-depth blogs — you’re setting a good tone for the entire visit. The happier a patient is when they see the provider, the easier it is for the provider to deliver a great experience. Your first impression will influence the last impression — make them want to choose you again.

For existing customers: No matter what services you provide, some patients just won’t need to see you again for a while. The longer it takes, the more likely they are to forget your name. But if your ad or listing appears in their online search, that can be the reminder they need to see you when they need urgent care.

So what’s the decision stage and how do you succeed here? Make everything easy when a person is searching for urgent care.

  • Easy to find: We are mostly talking about appearing in local search listings, but traditional marketing factors in, too. You want to be top of mind through billboards, mailers, and other advertising. However, in many geographic areas, digital marketing is most important. Make sure your ads, SEO, and local listings are optimized regularly.
  • Easy to navigate: Your website should be more than aesthetically appealing. It should serve as a truly useful tool no matter what the patient needs. They should quickly find (and understand) services, location, scheduling, FAQs, billing, and anything else they want from you.
  • Easy to trust: Yes, reviews. And more reviews. But also, what’s your brand? Are you friendly? Clean? Knowledgeable? Make that really apparent on the site. Your best qualities should shine through authentically.
  • Easy to work with: Offer easy, fast online check-in. Give them the ability to sign-up for a personal online portal to see lab/test results without coming to the clinic. Promote mobile and other patient engagement technology before the visit. Your patients use technology for everything; they expect you’re using it, too.

If you get the first impression right, it will help you manage the wait expectation, which plays a major role in the patient experience.

Learn even more about how to keep patients happy in this blog >>

Manage the wait experience

Online scheduling and real-time queues will certainly help make waiting easier. Even a long wait is more tolerable when the expectations are met. This is extremely important because there is a clear link between perceived wait times, level of service, and patient satisfaction.

Online scheduling solutions don’t necessarily cover all your bases, though. There is actual psychology behind how waiting affects patients. When waits are perceived as uncertain, unexplained, or unfair, satisfaction drops quickly. Richard Larson from MIT identified that “the real problem isn’t just the duration of a delay. It’s how you experience that duration.” In an age of online reviews, this can impact a center’s reputation. So not only could patients not want to return, they may make it more difficult to get new patients in.

What can you do to manage wait experience? Here are some ways to prevent a wait from being perceived as uncertain, unexplained, or unfair.

  • Provide realistic wait times from the start. Making the real-time wait accessible via mobile, web, or an in-lobby display will make the wait easier. Outside of this, make sure an accurate verbal wait time is given during check-in.
  • Overestimate rather than underestimate. You may have noticed other services, like food delivery, sometimes overestimate the wait time. They aren’t just playing it safe. When a wait ends positively, like sooner than expected, consumer satisfaction goes up. You have to be careful not to deter patients from waiting at all, but providing a buffer can assure you hit the mark or even beat it.
  • Use other technology. If you have multiple clinics, you may be able to funnel some patients to a less busy location with queuing technology or telemedicine. This is a great way to balance out your total patient volume and whittle down wait times. It can also delight patients who are happy to skip coming to the clinic in the first place.
  • If you do offer online reservations, make it clear whether this is an appointment, a flexible reservation, or simply joining a first-in, first-out line. If they believe they have made an appointment, any wait beyond that time can make the experience go from inconvenient to intolerable.

 

You can’t always manage the wait times. But you can manage expectations. And that makes a difference.

 

Foster your relationships and reputation

Even though this is mostly episodic care, your relationship with a patient does not end when the bill is paid. You have an opportunity to stay in touch for several reasons that can improve retention and your clinic’s reputation.

At the very least, you should follow up with a thank-you email or text. Express genuine appreciation for their business. A patient’s final impression of a single visit should be sincere and caring. This also gives you the opportunity to do more:

  • Include a survey. Show them you care about their input by giving them a voice — and truly use relevant feedback to improve.
  • Ask them to write a Google review and include a link. While you can take some control over your reviews by only asking people who report high satisfaction (e.g. in a survey) to rate you, reviews are a numbers game. Be it with a survey, a link to your Google listing, or both, ask for feedback.
  • Follow up on all feedback, but especially negative feedback. Show them you are listening and that you take their input seriously. Even if you cannot rectify a complaint, acknowledging their experience can lead to forgiveness. Of course, any way you can explain or demonstrate steps toward improvement will go even further.
  • Include any recommendations or resources pertaining to what came up during the visit. This doesn’t just make it easy for the patient to find information; it shows that you were listening and you remember the patient. Now the email is truly personal, and you have an established relationship.
  • Consider email marketing. Tell people about a new or existing service they may not know you provide. Remind them of annual physicals. Show them a blog that can help them with self-care. These help you continue your relationship and stay top of mind for their next urgent care need.

Get more tips on how to adapt to new patient demands in our eBook >>

Be there for them

Urgent care visits are generally stressful for patients. They already don’t want to be there, so they really need you to make the rest of the experience as pleasant as possible. Their episodic event is likely a significant one in their own lives, and they want to feel like it’s significant to you, too.

But not every reason to visit has to be painful. Like with COVID-19 testing, urgent cares are a bigger part of people’s lives today than years past. That’s because urgent care centers do more than fix what’s broken. Primary care services and Occupational Medicine fit nicely into the modern urgent care business model. They’re also great ways to build repeat business. Learn more about How to Grow Your Urgent Care in a New Era.

How else can you prepare for the new era of urgent care? Visit our info hub for all our expert-approved content.

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