Patient Loyalty: Why People Buy Emotions, Not Things

patient loyalty emotionsThe secret ingredient in sales—the one thing that every successful leader knows—is to discover the emotional touch point that motivates the prospective buyer. Fundamentally, the individual doesn’t want to buy a car simply to have a car. They will buy a fancy car to boost their self-esteem. Or they will buy a fast, sporty car to feel young, sporty or maybe a touch “faster” than their friends.

Similarly, healthcare providers and hospital executives recognize that people act mainly on emotions in their medical and healthcare purchase decisions. Nobody sets out to buy “surgery” or a particular procedure. In healthcare, people buy happiness. The procedure may correct a health issue, but the primary benefit is the happiness of pain relief…or an improved appearance…or the ability to enjoy a more active lifestyle.

Patient Loyalty is Based Mainly on Emotion…

So, what is it that drives patient loyalty? Every department store, supermarket and gas station has a loyalty program intended to, somehow, bond the customer to the brand and to inspire continued patronage. Many of those retail systems use a reward arrangement (offering discounts, reward points, premium benefits), and many are effective. But those emotional connections aren’t strong or deep, and the sense of “loyalty” can be easily distracted, fade or be forgotten.

The various emotions in healthcare delivery—in particular, the interaction between the patient and the provider and staff—are much stronger in the first place. Consider, for example, how health issues can range from minor discomfort to life-threatening—for the individual or a family member.

In order to create a sense of loyalty and patient satisfaction in healthcare delivery, it is helpful to identify the patient’s emotions and motivations. Moreover, a Gallup World Poll reports that “patients who think their health is improving have more positive feelings about their hospital stay than those who don’t.” Emotions significantly affect how patients rate facilities through an HCAHPS survey. (And those scores influence reimbursements.)

Other studies have demonstrated a connection between patient experience and the overall medical outcome. It seems that satisfaction can affect clinical outcomes, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as patient retention, and malpractice claims.

Patients have nearly no ability to evaluate a doctor’s clinical skills. But how they feel—their emotions or a sense of improved wellbeing—are benchmarks for “timely, efficient and patient-centered health care delivery,” according to the NIH.

The little emotional touches…

We could imagine that “providing a cure for cancer” would be a major “emotional touch” for a patient. But major steps in satisfaction happen more often with the little emotional touches. When a patient feels that they are expected, welcome and wanted by the practice, for example. The majority of patients who leave a medical practice do so because of a feeling of indifference. So how can a provider and staff demonstrate that they care about the person? The patient is not an interruption.

  • Extend a friendly and personal greeting by name
  • Let them know that they are expected and appreciated
  • Demonstrate respect for their feelings, their time and their problem
  • Discover their expectations about the outcome of the visit or treatment
  • Gently probe for the underlying emotions and what they want to achieve
  • Provide information and understanding of how they can be helped
  • Periodically track their feelings; look for improvement opportunities

Belonging to the community…

Medical offices can present themselves as a sterile and impersonal station. Or they can be seen and appreciated as a warm and welcoming home-like environment. Offices that inspire a sense of trust and community inspire belonging. People who are “at home” bond to the office as the center of the community that they own or where they belong. This, too, is a positive emotional connection.

A hallmark of most retail loyalty schemes is a method of “buying” repeat participation. “When you earn so-many points, you are rewarded. Healthcare loyalty and patient satisfaction are reliant on personal and emotional connections. The chief ingredients are established over time include:

  • Trust
  • Social Proof
  • Engagement
  • Continuous Improvement

Emotions are a powerful connecting point for both the provider/office and the patient. Although a “professional presence” can be useful, some medical training teaches to avoid being “emotionally close” with patients. It can be a delicate balance, but understanding emotions, empathy and connecting with patients is a fundamental ingredient of care and patient loyalty.


About Stewart Gandolf, MBA

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is both the Publisher of and the Co-Founder of Healthcare Success. Stewart has written for dozens of leading healthcare publications and spoken at hundreds of venues on a variety of topics including marketing, reputation management and patient experience. Additionally, he has personally consulted for over 1,500 hospitals and practices. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Stewart worked for leading advertising agencies including J. Walter Thompson.

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