Just How Loyal Do You Need Your Patients to Be?

Shelly Reese


July 10, 2014

In This Article

Is Patient Loyalty Overrated?

For all the talk of the sacred doctor/patient relationship, many physicians have been seeing that patients aren't as loyal as they once were, and the situation is likely to worsen.

In a 2013 analysis of 1 million patient records, Press Ganey, which provides patient satisfaction research and quality improvement services, determined that nearly 16% of patients are at "high risk" of defecting from their current physician or practice.[1] The performance improvement organization defined "high-risk" patients as those who are not "very likely" to recommend their physician or medical practice to others.

In addition, the Affordable Care Act and the move toward insurance plans with narrower provider networks are putting patient loyalty to the test. Although many patients may be perfectly satisfied with the care they receive from their providers, the allure of these plans' financial savings may be all the incentive they need to change doctors.

In an April 2013 survey of 713 consumers, HealthPocket, a Website that compares and rates health plans, found that nearly one half (45%) of respondents who had a regular doctor would be willing to change doctors if it would save them money.[2] Of those, more than one half would change doctors for as little as $500-$1000 in annual savings.

Many doctors have already become resigned to the fact that a long-standing relationship won't prevent patients from dropping them should their insurance coverage change. But the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the move toward insurance plans with narrower provider networks has probably put an entirely new level of strain on the doctor/patient relationship.

Although it isn't a new development that some patients may be dissatisfied and at high risk for defection, the environment in which doctors practice is changing. As more insurers tighten their provider networks, many practices are increasingly concerned about losing market share. As a result, holding onto those would-be defectors may take on a new level of importance.

What Determines Loyalty

In light of that trend, doctors need to put themselves in the shoes of their patients, says Kevin Coleman, head of research and data for HealthPocket.

"'Disloyal' shouldn't be considered an emotionally pejorative term," he says. "When you change auto mechanics, you see that as a reflection on the price and value of the service. You don't see it as a question of loyalty, but as a matter of convenience, quality, etc. Providers would be foolish to ignore this."

Consequently, Coleman says, providers need to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Price is only one factor in a patient's decision-making process, and doctors need to demonstrate the value they provide. "Doctors have to understand that from a consumer's perspective, the question is, 'Is it worth keeping my doctor if it's going to cost me more?"


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