By Miranda Crowell
If you’re involved in any aspect of a patient referral, patient leakage is a problem which cannot be ignored. Like water dripping from a pipe, patient leakage leads to lost revenue and increased costs. And if money is not enough to perk your ears, patient leakage can also lead to negative clinical outcomes and a poor patient experience.
Patient leakage occurs when a patient’s business leaks out of the system because either (i) the patient failed to make or attend a follow-up/referral visit or (ii) the patient took his or her business to a competitor. While not an exhaustive list, below are four key reasons why patient leakage happens in the first place.
Old Habits Die Hard: Providers and Staff Revert to Past Trends
Like any business, patient referrals can be all about who ya know. When doctors create a relationship and a belief that the other performs satisfactory work, a tendency to refer to that person may form. It can be difficult for new players to enter into this system of trust, even when the new provider is in-network. Without taking advantage of ways to put a medical service in plain sight for other doctors to see, referring doctors and staff may not have knowledge of all the options. Lastly, some staff may have a “We have always done it this way” attitude, but it is this approach that could be costing your business money.
Even if your business has made a strong effort to refer in-network, patient leakage can still occur when the patient subjectively believes that one provider outperforms another. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, so businesses should use this tool to their advantage by capitalizing on in-network referrals when they can and educating patients on the benefits of staying in-network when they cannot. Poor past experiences also motivate a patient to go outside of a network, so businesses should not shy away from the tough conversations.
Sometimes a patient’s lack of follow-up or missed referral has a simple root cause: lack of convenience. A patient may fail to follow-up because (i) the consulting or referred-to doctor took too long to respond to the patient, (ii) the doctor’s office is too far or other access to care issues exist, or (iii) the consulting doctor is not accepting patients (among others). Recently, price has become a part of the convenience discussion. As discussed in a previous blog post, retail healthcare offices are far superior than traditional providers when it comes to price transparency. But even if your office is not ready to post the price for routine services on your website, cost is becoming increasingly important to the consumer. Providing cost transparency for services, such as colonoscopies, mammograms, X-rays, and vaccinations, may poise your business to reduce patient leakage.
A Broken Referral System – Still Largely a Paper-Based System
If the state of the art referral is made on a one-fourth sized sheet of paper or a computer printout, it is no surprise that patient leakage exists. A patient will feel little commitment to follow through with instructions for future action. Conversely, appointments for follow-ups made on-site are an obligation; the appointment is already scheduled into the patient’s life. Moreover, most physicians do not share an IT platform, so there is little way to follow the patient through their course of treatment. This could lead to potential poor outcomes, medical malpractice risks, and poor patient experiences. (You can read more about medical malpractice risks involved in a patient referral here.)
In short, patient leakage is a preventable problem. Unless the rusty pipes are acknowledged, patient leakage could be bleeding your business of downstream revenue. With a few minor changes and some clever tools, such as Fibroblast’s referral platform, the problem of patient leakage can be a problem no more.