By Tara Gallagher
Vizient Associate Principal, Solution Strategy and Innovation, Sg2
Physician referral analytic tools have existed for decades to help healthcare organizations understand referral patterns, prioritize outreach efforts and monitor progress. And organizations have long considered physician outreach teams as tools to improve patient leakage and increase revenue. While both still hold true today, there is more to the story.
Leakage from affiliated physicians is a strong indicator of customer loyalty struggles and can illuminate opportunities for improvement to both physician and customer loyalty. Improving physician referral patterns is critical for physician loyalty and a healthy bottom line, but also can serve as a foundational strength for customer loyalty strategy. Forward thinking organizations should use physician outreach teams and network optimization tools as part of this broader customer loyalty strategy to improve leakage, understand the causes of patient dissatisfaction that leads to leakage and coach physician groups on how to create a more cohesive customer experience that drives loyalty.
But you may be wondering, who are my customers? Your patients already have a relationship with you — they utilize care at your organization when they need services. However, healthcare customers choose where they go for services — they have autonomy over where they spend their time and money on healthcare services — which means it is important to build loyalty with them to ensure your financial success.
Adopting a customer-centric view with your network integrity tools shifts your approach from strictly physician loyalty to include customer growth and keeping more care within your health system. This shift leads to a three-fold win: removing patient friction, building customer loyalty by improving care results and — most importantly — immediately growing short- and long-term revenue.
Why is healthcare plagued with so much friction?
The concept of smoothing the patient experience has been ignored for far too long, as healthcare providers have been slow to recognize patients as customers who have choices. The outdated mentality of "patients who need care don't have a choice in where they get it" is no longer effective. Friction in healthcare guarantees a dissatisfying patient experience, which means they will not want to be referred to your organization for more services. Loyalty is reduced, leakage continues and network optimization efforts will fail. Removing friction from the patient journey has become critical post-pandemic due to labor shortages, declining revenues for traditional health systems and novel disrupters — 63% of consumers have received care from a non-traditional provider.
In order to succeed, healthcare organizations must design and offer services that prioritize a customer experience. Healthcare consumers are increasingly shopping to find a healthcare experience that gives them what they want in terms of access, convenience, cost — and sometimes even outcomes. As a result, health systems need to get to a deeper understanding of consumers in their markets and promote this new consumer relevance.
Are you providing the right services, in the right way, to the right customers?
In other industries, companies that offer a superior experience by focusing on removing friction and improving convenience, guidance and access are poised to gain customer loyalty and a larger share of their customers' wallets. Amazon, for example, only sold books and Kindles once upon a time, but today, they offer services their customers value, like effortless shopping for a broad spectrum of goods and services through an easy-to-use platform and 48-hour delivery. Amazon also takes poor customer experiences very seriously, offering many options to "make it right." The company's success can be attributed to its relentless focus on customer need — building a strong and loyal base.
In the past, healthcare organizations measured success through market expansion, but in the future, success will be defined by customer loyalty. This shift in the healthcare industry is driven by the need for organizations to:
- Navigate unrelenting financial pressures. Healthcare organizations have traditionally focused on long-term strategy and growth. Now, they need to focus on immediate revenue lift and long-term revenue growth to drive top-line performance. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the healthcare industry, including a reliance on the commercial market and financially favorable procedures to fund operations. This only serves to highlight the need for organizations to diversify revenue streams, engage the healthcare consumer and chart a new course for sustainable performance.
- Defend against novel disrupters stealing market share and win with a customer loyalty strategy. There are new, nontraditional disrupters entering the healthcare space, and they have identified the healthcare consumer as their priority for growth. Incentivized by acquiring consumers primed to utilize their care services, novel disrupters such as CVS, Walmart and Amazon — who have always capitalized on customer-centric strategy for growth — put traditional healthcare organizations at risk of losing market share.
- Respond to evolved consumer expectations. The rise of these disrupters and the transformation of the ambulatory landscape have led to an evolution of consumer healthcare expectations. As mentioned above, your customers are shopping for healthcare experiences; they want convenience, cost-effectiveness and access, and healthcare organizations need to provide a seamless and personalized experience to meet these expectations. Healthcare organizations must optimize their customers' experience with high-tech and high-touch guidance.
Shifting mindset from "liaison" tools to "loyalty" tools
The idea of using physician outreach and liaison tools as part of a broader customer loyalty strategy may feel disjointed, but they are just as critical to the strategy as your physicians are. Understanding and improving referral patterns has an immediate impact on both your revenue and your customers. Physicians who refer patients to affiliated practitioners are telling their patients not only that they trust these physicians, but also that they trust their organization to provide the best care. As customer loyalty develops, so does customer stickiness.
Start building your customer loyalty strategy
It is vital for organizations to fully understand the relationship between leakage and loyalty, as they are two sides of the same coin. Physician outreach teams use network optimization tools to understand leakage patterns by specialty and physician groups, but even deeper insights can be gained. Organizations also can use these tools to understand which patients are seeking care from competitors. Once you understand "who" is not loyal, you can use these insights to better appreciate "why," and, from there, develop your customer loyalty strategy.
Consumer Innovation solutions will help shift the competitive advantage to become more consumer focused and retail ready, as well as create a financially sustainable health system. In today's rapidly changing environment, customer centricity is critical for success, and building customer loyalty begins with keeping them in your healthcare organization for all their care. A successful customer strategy can build stronger patient-physician relationships that guides customers through their health journey.
About the author
Tara Gallagher is associate principal, solution strategy and innovations at Sg2, a Vizient company. She is responsible for many Sg2 legacy tools including development of the next claims solution, Provider Connections, which is designed for business development and physician outreach teams to activate near-term growth. She has over 20 years of healthcare experience that includes product development, consulting and product management.