Why You’re Losing Patients


Top 3 reasons patients leave a practice

Patients today have an unprecedented number of choices when it comes to choosing providers and health care options. The days of “doctor knows best” and being loyal to the same practice for decades are over. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, “Consumers are scrutinizing the quality and cost of their health care, and they’re more apt and able to look elsewhere when their providers don’t measure up to their expectations.”

Patients are acting like consumers in other industries like retail and hospitality, and demanding that their healthcare be delivered in the same way. And if patients aren’t happy, they won’t hesitate to switch doctors. What are the top reasons patients leave a practice, and what can you do to stop it? 

Top 3 reasons patients leave

1. Too long of a wait. It’s a fact: patients hate to wait. According to a Vitals survey, 84 percent of patient respondents rated wait time as “somewhat” or “very important,” and one in five patients have changed doctors because of long wait times.

Wait times can also influence your likelihood of attracting new patients if they affect your online ratings. The survey found that doctors with five stars, the highest rating on Vitals, had an average wait time of 13 minutes. In contrast, doctors with a one-star rating had an average wait time of over 34 minutes.

Patients hate to wait. If you can’t schedule a new patient sooner than 24 days out, or if patients have to wait more than 30 minutes for their appointments, you risk losing them to other doctors. 

By the way, patients also may choose a different doctor if they have to wait too long to schedule an appointment. The average wait time for a new patient appointment is about 24 days, according to a recent survey by physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. If you can’t see patients in a timely manner, they will likely look for another doctor who can—especially if they offer online scheduling and you don’t. Another survey found that 81 percent of patients would prefer to schedule doctor’s appointments online, and 40 percent would consider switching providers for this convenience.

If overhauling your scheduling seems daunting, be aware that the perception of wait time also plays a role in patient satisfaction. Consider sprucing up your waiting room to be more attractive and convenient. Offering hot coffee, free WiFi, and patient education videos can make wait time more pleasant and productive.

2. Lack of trust. You might think it goes without saying that patients trust doctors. But trust has to be earned. “Build trust by listening to patients and carefully examining them to learn as much as possible about their symptoms before making a diagnosis,” stated practice growth company PatientPop. Not doing so can have serious repercussions. A 2017 study found that up to 88 percent of patients who came to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion went home with a different diagnosis, while only 12 percent received confirmation that the original diagnosis was complete and correct.

In a study conducted by ZocDoc, patients said that a lack of trust is “a major deal-breaker.” Seven in ten said they would stop seeing a doctor they didn’t trust.

According to Becker’s, providers who “take steps to build trusted relationships at every touchpoint of the customer journey reap financial benefits, [and] the quality of care and the consumer’s well-being improve as well.”

3. Poor communication. “Nearly two in three (63 percent) Americans say that poor communication skills in a doctor would make them reconsider the relationship,” according to the Zocdoc study. Specifically, patients want doctors who ask good questions and are good listeners. A 2018 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that in a random sample of 100+ clinical encounters, the doctor interrupted the patient after a median of 11 seconds.

Contrary to assumptions, good communication doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It can be as simple as a few well-chosen words, attention to body language, and modern patient education methods that avoid jargon and explain concepts visually. 

For more on this topic, see Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Doctor-Patient Communication

Building patient loyalty

According to Becker’s, “True consumer loyalty means that customers not only seek out care, but are willing and eager to take their care provider’s advice, because the relationship is already built on trust.”

Patient loyalty is built on trust and can lead to a more profitable practice due to patients’ willingness to pay for value-added products and services and make referrals.

Loyalty also fosters patient engagement, confidence in their care, and predicts their healthcare spending. “Studies show that once customers know what they can expect from the healthcare system, they continue to purchase the same products, purchase across product lines, and are more willing to pay for value-added products and services.” In addition, “They’re also more willing to make referrals on their provider’s behalf—which is almost always a surefire way to attract more consumers,” reported Becker’s

For more on this topic, see Easy Ways to Build Patient Loyalty and Promote Your Practice.

Rendia is committed to helping our customers address the issues that impact patient loyalty and attrition. Read our previous posts on how to revamp your waiting room to make it more patient-friendly, get a handle on time management in 2020, and improve patients’ perception of care with digital patient education.

Building patient loyalty starts with improving patient experience and satisfaction. Get everything you need to master patient satisfaction—from surveys to key metrics—download our eBook, Taking Action on Patient Satisfaction: The Ultimate Guide.

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