Cultivating Patient Loyalty: Five Steps to Success

By Peter G. Shaw-McMinn, OD

Jan. 13, 2016

I think most doctors would like to have loyal patients who return year after year, and heed the doctor’s recommendations without question. Few doctors actually try to design a patient experience that will lead to patient loyalty. Often they believe that offering the correct services and products is enough. However, patients evaluate the services not on the end product, but rather, on the process.

In his lectures, my old friend, Gary Moss, OD, often cited research by L. Berry, A. Parasuramun, & V. Zeithaml from the book Delivering Quality Service: Balancing Customer Perceptions and Expectations.They demonstrated that service quality was determined by consumers based on a system known as RATER:

Reliability- provide what was promised
Assurance- convey trust & competence
Tangibles- facilities & your appearance
Empathy- caring & personal attention
Responsiveness- willingness to help

The degrees of brand loyalty described by Dr. Shaw-McMinn, who says the little extra touches that show you care, like calling patients the day after a procedure to see how they’re doing, or giving them your personal phone number, help to cultivate loyalty.

Note that of the five components of service quality, only reliability is an outcome; the other four are part of the service delivery process. Doctors should concentrate on demonstrating what patients perceive most easily, not always what the provider believes patients want or need.

Doctors need to ask themselves, are they showing loyalty to their patients? Which begs the question, how can we demonstrate loyalty to our patients? One way is to reinforce a pre-appointment recall system, positioning annual visits because you care about them.

I say to my patients, “Whenever I see a new patient, I plan on seeing you for the rest of your life! You won’t have to worry about your vision, I will! We will put you on my schedule about this time every year so you won’t have to wait for an appointment. If you do what I say, you will have a good chance of having good vision for the rest of your life. And that is our practice theme: Vision for the Rest of Your Life!”

I once had an OMD in my office who limited his practice to cataract surgery. His patients adored him. He was a good surgeon, true, but there are lots of good surgeons. What was special about him? He called his patients the next morning after surgery to see how they were doing! What doctor calls his patients? After witnessing the response of grateful patients, I began to call patients following the prescribing of contact lenses, pharmaceuticals, spectacle lenses and other treatments. Eventually this resulted in my giving them my personal cell phone number. In the past ten years, not one patient has abused calling me. In fact, they still tend to wait too long to contact me regarding a red eye.

Showing loyalty to my patients has resulted in patients coming back year after year, allowing me to close my practice to new patients. I do see new patients from time to time, but only emergencies and friends or family of my existing patients. These friends or family of existing patients consider it special to see me as their doctor. A doctor who they know will be loyal to them, and encourage them to return the loyalty.

What can you do to enhance patient loyalty in your practice? What have you tried in your practice to cultivate patient loyalty that has been a success? What hasn’t worked?

Peter G. Shaw-McMinn, OD, is an assistant professor of Clinical Studies at the Southern California College of Optometry. He is the senior partner of Sun City Vision Center, a group practice including five optometrists. Dr. Shaw-McMinn has served as chairman of the AOA Practice Management Committee and the Association of Practice Management Educators. He was the appointed Benedict Professor in Practice Management & Administrationfor the University of Houston College of Optometry for 2001-2002. To contact:

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