Houston, We Have A Problem: Patient Leakage

Kriss-BarlowWhat exactly is “patient leakage”?

Leakage is one of those terms that just never has a good connotation. In healthcare business development, it refers to patient business that is lost, that escapes, that you believe you should have gotten but that “leaks” and goes elsewhere.

Leakage is used to describe situations where primary care physicians refer patients to providers outside their system, rather than staying within their network. Patient leakage, if allowed to go unchecked, can lead to significant business losses, which is why it needs to be examined closely in your healthcare organization so you can turn it around.

Why does patient leakage occur in healthcare organizations?

If you have a leakage problem in your hospital or private practice, I invite you to take a minute and think about what the possible causes might be. Below, I’ve listed six factors which might cause leakers to go someplace else. To help you begin to see where your biggest vulnerabilities lie, assign a percentage value to each one. This will help you set priorities, form a response, and frame your new message and approach. Then you can start focusing your energies to stopping those damaging leaks.

1) Old habits. I wish I had statistics to show how often primary care physician referrals go to a particular healthcare provider just because “they always have.” With the average medical practice seeing 25 or more patients a day, everything that can be put on autopilot, is. Start thinking about things you could do to get referring physicians to break that old pattern and give your healthcare facility a look.

2) Belief in better patient care. Physicians genuinely want to do right for their patients. Often the referrals are sent to the specialists who have earned the referring physician’s trust. How could you earn their trust?

3) Patient’s request. When asked, almost every primary care physician will say that if a patient requests a certain doctor/group/facility, a doctor will honor that patient’s wish. For you, that might mean harnessing the power of word of mouth, especially in the social media arena. Put some energy into establishing yourself in the minds of potential healthcare consumers.

4) It’s easier and cheaper. While these factors are not as relevant for patient referrals to specialists, they are at the top of the list for imaging, laboratory and ancillary service referrals. Could you streamline your clinical services, make your prices more competitive?

5) “Refer to where I know.” Some doctors would be willing to refer to a new doctor whom they don’t really know or trust yet, but that would be the exception, not the norm. It’s a proven fact that as a whole, doctors are slow adopters. But, there are lots of ways to get yourself in front of doctors: open houses, receptions, personal office visits, seminars. Networking and establishing connections in your medical community are crucial to making yourself top-of-mind.

6) Baggage from the past. Long memories of poor patient experiences, lack of acknowledgement, and unpleasant (maybe unresolved) business issues all get in the way of a physician being willing to refer to a specific colleague. If this sounds like any of your past experiences, maybe explore ways to patch things up and start again.

Every healthcare problem has an innovative solution, even a leaky one

So now that I’ve talked about what leakage is and the possible causes of it, in my next blog I’ll tackle ways to prevent it, as well as contain it once it’s occurred. Stay tuned!

Kriss Barlow RN, MBA is principal with Barlow/McCarthy a physician relationship consulting firm. She can be reached at kbarlow@barlowmccarthy.com.