QUIT CHASING NEW PATIENTS and BUTTERFLIES: Understand Your Healthcare Practice as an Ecosystem

Within an ecosystem, everything in the environment interacts together. These interactions occur whether you acknowledge them or not. 

A healthcare business (practice) is an ecosystem and all of the interactions with a patient and potential patient are part of this ecosystem. We need to see and understand the whole business in order to be able to respond to patient and business issues.

The most important thing for you to realize is that all of the touchpoints, interactions, and systems in your practice impact each other! Without understanding your practice’s ecosystem, you will constantly chase the wrong metrics and wrong solutions – which will make life more difficult for you, your staff, and your patients.

You need to understand your own practice and the patient journey within your practice. You need to know where and when each and every interaction happens. Once we have a holistic view, we can start to make the most impactful changes within it. 

How to Map Out a Patient Journey

To better understand how each minor interaction affects others along the patient journey, let’s look at a parallel system and investigate what happened to the butterflies in Zion National Park.

Prior to becoming a National Park, this gorgeous spot in Utah was a thriving natural ecosystem. Once we drew attention to it, built roads around it, and encouraged people to visit, things changed.

Tourists started exploring Zion in droves. This influx of humans caused the local cougar population to move on to less-crowded areas. Without this natural predator, the deer population skyrocketed. With so many extra deer, the cottonwood tree population got eaten up. Because there were fewer cottonwoods, there were fewer root systems to keep soil in place. Streams started to escape from their natural groove, they widened and washed away the topsoil. Wildflowers could no longer grow without rich topsoil. Without the wildflowers, butterflies died off or moved on to areas where they could sustain themselves.

And all most people could ask was, “Where did all the butterflies go?”

One small tweak along this chain of events could change the entire outcome – and your healthcare practice is no different.

Take a step back and consider all the interactions with your patient to see how your own business ecosystem can produce different results with some small adjustments. Map out the touchpoints and start to ask more and better questions about the patient’s journey within your practice. 

For example, a patient’s journey may look something like this: 

  • The patient heard about you. 
  • They called and scheduled an appointment. 
  • They arrived and walked in the door. 
  • The patient met with the provider. 
  • They received a care plan. 
  • Later, they called to schedule a new appointment.
  • Prior to that appointment, they dropped off. 

At this point, many practices simply want to add more butterflies to the landscape, more patients into the system. If you don’t understand why the butterflies left in the first place, you can’t merely bring new ones into the ecosystem and expect them to stay. You need to know why your patients are leaving rather than only focusing on attracting new ones.

Once you have the big picture, you can start to ask better questions – like where did the patient first hear about you in the first place? what happened on that first call? Why did they cancel their second appointment? These questions will help you understand what actions you need to take at each point along the journey to improve the patient’s experience.

When you truly understand the ecosystem, you stop chasing metrics. When you make slight improvements, patient success and, therefore, happiness, take care of themselves and will take care of your business.

What happens when you don’t understand the patient’s journey? 

If we are constantly trying to solve a problem at the point it is happening, we’re rarely creating a long term solution. We’re creating short term solutions that are not sustainable and do not address the real issue. Adding butterflies back into the park without solving the upstream problems will not keep those butterflies alive and happy. If your solution to patient cancellations is to bring in more new patients, you’re missing the mark. 

This is like only dealing with the symptoms of an injury without solving the underlying problem, which will make the symptoms return or even get worse. For many healthcare practices, the most common problems we see are high cancel rates, no-shows, and billing issues.

These are all results of having a poor understanding of your ecosystem.

Let’s dive deeper into the problem of high cancel rates:

When people don’t show up for their appointments, they’re not on their path to get better. Not only does this prevent them from solving their own issue, but it also has an impact on others. For example, another patient could have had that time slot or the provider could have spent more time preparing for the next appointment. Simply asking for the cancellations to stop only makes the issue go away for the short-term but has no lingering impact on the future. 

Patients cancel appointments because they had time-conflict with a meeting, they woke up sick, or another totally legitimate reason. So what is the root problem? 

You have to go upstream. Why are they moving things around? You need to understand where they are coming from and see if you can provide a better scheduling solution earlier in the process. Have conversations with patients before their appointments. 

Share why their arrival is important to their care and to the whole process.

It never hurts to go deeper. If you don’t share the impact their cancellation has, the patient has no way of knowing. They don’t understand they’re causing issues downstream and impacting other patients in addition to their own success. 

What should patient success look like? 

Doing what’s best for the patient is best for the business. That means that patient success is going to vary from practice to practice.

Even if you can’t help a client, if you do what’s best for them they can still have a positive experience. This experience could lead to them sharing their story with others and creating word of mouth marketing. It could even lead to a positive review somewhere or the patient may return to your practice at another time.

The research shows if expectations are met and trust is built, these are starting points to work from in creating your own definitions to patient success. There is more to patient success than healing and getting better. 

Securing a positive experience comes down to action.

Telling your patients you care is a really dumb, basic thing to do. You have to SHOW them that you care.

This takes work and requires you to understand your patient journey deeply. You need to know what kind of experience you want to create and what emotions you want to leave them with. Then, you integrate these goals into each of your touchpoints, interactions, and processes within the ecosystem of your business.

The earlier you can set the patient – and your practice – up for success, the more success you’ll all have. If you aren’t prioritizing your patients’ needs, you’re going to create more work for your staff and yourself, you’re going to chase unimportant metrics, and, ultimately, you’re going to lose.

Understanding the patient journey and your practice’s ecosystem are critical in improving their experience and your retention and referral rates.

Every great company understands their clients’ journey.  They understand at all times where their clients are on that journey and what they must do to make it a seamless experience.

Let’s start working on your patient journey with an easy question:

What is your current drop off rate? Reply in the comments. 

It’s time to stop worrying about negative reviews, a bad reputation, or a failing business.

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