patient loyalty

Protecting Network Integrity in an Evolving Digital Landscape

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Protecting Network Integrity In an Evolving Digital Landscape

What exactly is network integrity?

According to The Advisory Board, “Network integrity is your system’s ability to keep patients within your defined network of providers who are employed, affiliated, or in some way aligned with your organization. This could include a hospital, employed medical group, an ACO, CI network, or an independent physician organization.

By this definition, network integrity is an enterprise-wide effort. Providers must be on board with a health system’s network integrity efforts to minimize patient leakage across the enterprise. One of the most important parts of network integrity is the patient experience. While patient experience involves a number of factors, including in-patient experience, communication with the provider and the care administered, an increasing component of patient experience is mobile engagement.

Mobile engagement and patient experience are both rapidly changing and increasingly important to health systems and practices. According to a July 2018 Black Box Market Research survey, consumer expectations for healthcare providers are increasing. 92% of healthcare consumers surveyed say that improving customer experience should be a top strategic priority for medical providers over the next twelve months.  

These changing expectations are changing consumer behavior at a rapid pace. To illustrate, 88% of consumers under 40 say they'll choose their next provider based on online presence. Simply put, if providers and health systems fail to meet consumer expectations, which include having provider profiles and schedules online—network integrity will diminish as patients switch to more modernized providers. The key takeaway is that provider switching and shopping is happening now—and is threatening network integrity for health systems and practices across the country.

How to Maintain Network Integrity in a Rapidly Changing Market

There are at least three things that providers can do now to invest in network integrity to achieve real benefits over the coming years:

1. Improve your digital front door and digital curb appeal

To welcome consumers and retain them, providers need a welcoming digital front door. Consumers should be able to access a practice and its providers through a variety of digital access points including search engines, maps, digital assistants and social media. Additionally, practices need to develop digital curb appeal online through a consistent brand experience that promotes the provider’s brand.

While digital front doors and curb appeal are often associated with customer acquisition, the rise of doctor shopping and switching have turned these components into core tenets of maintaining network integrity. Having poor digital curb appeal is a threat to any health system’s network integrity because loyalty is being replaced with rapid provider switching.

2. Syndicate provider profiles, location data and schedules across digital channels

While it’s clear that provider profiles need to be visible across digital access points, less literature exists on effective ways to achieve this. Fortunately, companies such as Yext syndicate provider data across digital access points. Solutions such as Yext allow for control over the brand experience, thereby promoting a health system’s brand and providers.

3. Referral management

It’s simple—broken referral processes cost the healthcare industry an estimated $150 billion each year. Therefore, referral management is a high impact piece of any network integrity initiative. While there are several ways to address referral management, including reducing lead times and sharing data across constituents, a comprehensive referral management solution should be in place to protect network integrity.

With referral management, patient-provider matching is an often overlooked component. By ensuring that patients are navigated to specialists with the right expertise, waste is reduced and the patient experience is enhanced.

Many factors including patient experience, referral management, digital front doors, patient-provider matching, patient access and patient engagement affect network integrity. At the end of the day, however, network integrity is about getting a few key things right: first, welcoming patients into your network at multiple access points; second, providing a positive experience; and third, making it convenient for consumers to return. In a rapidly evolving landscape, these core tenets can help protect a health system’s network integrity.

Does your organization run a risk of patient loyalty liability?

According to a recent Accenture Study, the providers in the healthcare industry have low loyalty metrics, making them vulnerable to patients switching to competing health systems. Many patients, roughly 40% only stay with their current providers because they view switching as difficult. However, this lack of wanting to switch does not make them loyal.

As the healthcare industry explores and expands its digital capabilities and technologies, health data sharing and access has drastically improved. Health systems that digitize access (i.e. electronic health records (EHRs), online appointment scheduling, patient portals) are more attractive to the modern patient. These capabilities not only increase patient access to providers, but also make it easier for the patient to switch providers if they are unhappy with the quality of service provided. One combatant to this is the power of personal recommendations. According to the study, 44% of patients choose their provider based on personal recommendations, a percentage which is higher than any other industry. However, patients are less likely to advocate for their healthcare providers and are twice as likely to complain about their providers.

So, do you make your patients loyal?

Strategy #1: Give your patients a reason to stay. 
Implement methods that expand your brand awareness and market reach on websites that patients use and trust, such as Google. Providing an easy point of access through online appointment scheduling is a powerful tactic because it removes the hassle of booking an appointment which is the first step in getting the patient in the front door.

Strategy #2: Empower patients to be proactive in recommendations.
The traditional comment card tactic is still alive today. It’s in a more digital format but it’s still an effective method to garner feedback and incorporate it into your everyday business processes. Allowing patients to leave reviews and feedback on the provider who delivered care via a digital pathway or the more traditional comment card route will help your organization improve and become more efficient because you are hearing exactly what the patient wants.

Strategy #3: Let the road lead to you.
Making it easy for patients to find you will improve their perception of your health system. The more you can modernize the access to your organization, the easier it will be to retain patients. By streamlining one of the most hassling parts of a care visit, scheduling the appointment, patients will view your organization as forward-thinking and proactive to their needs.