Putting a Price on a Patient’s Value

By: Peter G. Fernandez, DC

A recent study by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs in Washington, D.C. pointed out that people who were satisfied with a business told at least 3 people about their experiences. This is how a referral business is built. Unfortunately, dissatisfied people tell 11 people. Therefore, 1 dissatisfied person negates all the good of 4 enthusiastic referrers. Keep this “3-to-11 Rule” in mind the next time a patient walks into your office.

An average patient, one who visits your practice for X-rays, exams, therapy and adjustments, over a 10-year period, will add $16,000 in revenue to your practice. Take that $16,000 and multiply it by four (one patient plus three referrals, or 4 x $16,000) and you’ll have the true value of a patient. It should profoundly alter the way you view any patient.

Imagine a sign around a patient’s neck printed with the number “$64,000.” That’s what a patient is worth to your practice. When you see a frown on a patient’s face, imagine seeing a $64,000 price tag walk out your door.

We all agree that loyal patients are a key to a successful practice. Most practices spend the majority of their time, effort, and money on trying to woo new patients to their practice. Now figure out how much it costs to get a new patient, compared with keeping those you have. (Studies have shown that most businesses spend 5 to 10 times as much to get a new customer as they do to keep one.) Your conclusion should be obvious—place a priority on retaining patients—don’t let them go away dissatisfied. Unfortunately, too few practices follow this advice.

Many practices give lip service to effective patient relations, but few deliver what they promise. Your loyal patients are obviously your practice’s principal vehicle for word-of-mouth advertising. (The best kind of practice to have is a referral practice produced by your loyal patients, and the expense of keeping a patient loyal and stimulating a referral is $0.)

Also, consider the fact that a recent study pointed out that within 10 years, 81 of every 100 customers drift away. About 68% leave because of perceived indifference or rudeness. If loyal patients equal a successful practice, their perceptions of indifference or rudeness must be countered and eliminated.

How many patients do the doctor and CA interact with in an average practice day? In an average practice year? Collectively, these patients represent your “patient portfolio.” To find out how much your “patient portfolio” is worth, multiply the number of all your active patients by $16,000. If you have 100 active patients, you handle a “patient portfolio” of $1.6 million dollars; 200 active patients is $3.2 million dollars, etc. The implication should be clear. If you and your CAs look at your patients in this way, you are likely to take a fresh view of communicating with and serving your patients.

When your office buys a piece of therapy equipment, it begins to depreciate the day it arrives. The well-served patient, on the other hand, is an appreciating asset. Everything you do for your patients ups the odds of multiple visits, add-on business and priceless word-of-mouth referrals.

Don’t ever take your patients for granted. You have too much to gain and everything to lose if you do. Always keep a mental picture of each patient’s value and treat them like the V.I.P.s they are.

Patient Satisfaction

Patients want someone to pay attention to them, listen to their complaints, make them comfortable, provide them with a positive outlook and do everything in his/her power to help. They want care. They need courtesy and attention.

Many years ago, one of the CAs in my practice muttered, “I wish I could get rid of all our problem patients!” In her mind, certain patients were a “problem” because they were irritable and interrupted her while she performed her duties at the front desk. She didn’t realize that she and the rest of the office depended on those “problem patients” for their livelihood. If patients suddenly quit bringing their “problems” to our clinic, she wouldn’t have a job.

Patients are like any of us when we’re hurting or not feeling well. They are grumpy, out of sorts, irritable and probably frustrated that their bodies aren’t able to function as they used to. In other words, people in pain are not likely to be “model patients.”

Your CAs’ most outstanding responsibility is to understand—truly understand—how a typical patient feels. Perhaps all of us need to be a patient once in a while, in order to remember what it’s like.

Keeping the above point in mind, personal telephone calls and personal conversations between CAs should never cause a patient to wait for service or for a greeting. The image projected is one of not caring. Healthcare is a competitive business. Any patient who has gone through such negative experiences has the opportunity to easily get help somewhere else. They will turn to your competition for “better” treatment and more “attention.”

How patients are treated by CAs accounts for a large part of the treatment process. Quality service often requires employees to routinely do extraordinary things for patients.

As previously stated, studies have shown that satisfied patients tell at least three or four other people about their experiences. A dissatisfied patient tells 11 or more people about an unhappy experience. The clinic staff, which treats a patient poorly and loses him or her can expect to lose quite a bit more than just that one patient.

Remember the “3 to 11” rule. Remember, each patient is worth “$64,000.”

Chiropractic Patients Deserve Quality Care

Quality patient care means total CA concentration on the patient. When a CA is able to focus all her efforts, skill, and service to the patient, then she is offering the highest quality of care she can. A CA’s duty is to give every patient the level of care he or she needs.

Regular Patients

Regular patients are any patients other than new patients. They may have been coming to your office for treatment for a few weeks or for a few years. As regular patients, they represent the most valuable asset the practice has. They have demonstrated their loyalty to your practice as well as a deep belief in the healing powers of chiropractic. The sad part is they often are the most neglected.

Regular patients are often not praised or thanked for being regular patients. Often they are just taken for granted. They are generally ignored unless they voice a complaint. I’ve heard many doctors and CAs say, “I’m just sick of seeing the same old patients.” With this attitude, regular patients will eventually cease to be patients. The doctor’s and CAs’ attitudes must change and the patient’s loyal behavior must be reinforced from time to time to retain the patient. I’m not talking about presenting a gold watch to the patient. Merely acknowledging remaining on his or her treatment program and following the doctor’s instructions is enough to reinforce the patient’s behavior.

A regular patient can also be offended when the staff never bothers to learn anything about his or her recent activities, family, vocation, or profession. In the worst-case situations, the regular patient is treated like a stranger. This can happen when your office staff grows and a new receptionist is stationed at the front desk. A patient who has been coming in for months is asked, “Who are you?” No one has bothered to identify and point out the loyal patient who may have referred half of the office’s current patient load.

A “Patient-of-the-Month” certificate would be in order for any patient who has maintained a treatment schedule or has referred one or more patients to your office.

Again, what is needed here is to understand your patients’ perspectives and to imagine yourself “in their shoes.” If you treat your patients as you want to be treated, you’ll always win. However, if you follow “the Golden Rule” plus one—“Treat everyone as you would like them to treat your mother and father”—you’ll have a huge referral practice.

Remember, your regular patients are SOLID GOLD—guard your gold mine.