Do you know what your patients really want?

Let’s start by saying—we, in no way, are saying that we can read their minds, but we do know of an organization that has dedicated a lot of time and effort to finding out.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) conducted a recent study on what motivates consumers. The biggest finding to come from the research is that consumers are motivated by deep emotional—rather than just functional—needs when making purchases. And this applies to your practice as well.
Let’s face it: patients don’t refer your practice to their friends because a teeth cleaning is so wonderfully thorough or because an eye exam is so stellar.

In fact, you’ve probably never heard a patient proclaim, “What a fantastic teeth cleaning!” as they high-five you and your team on their way out the door. If you have… YOU ARE AMAZING.

Creating Loyalty is About Building Relationships

Patient Connections
Although you probably deserve that kind of excitement and appreciation, patients just frankly don’t get excited about that sort of thing. Instead, they assume they’d get a very similar teeth cleaning no matter which dentist they went to, just as they assume they’d get the same quality of eye exam from pretty much any optometrist — although you and I both know that’s not true.

What patients don’t get just anywhere, however, is the feeling of being a truly valued patient. Helping your patients feel valued will improve patient retention, which will help your practice grow.

Here are seven ways you can show patients you value them, ultimately leading to more referrals for your practice.

1. Patients are looking for affiliation and a sense of belonging

Everyone wants to feel like they belong. Think about it: ever since your first day of preschool you’ve put a lot of time and effort into “fitting in.”

We’re social animals with an intrinsic desire to satisfy our social needs. The Huffington Post explains that the “neocortex [part of our brain] comprises many of the brain areas involved in higher social cognition, such as conscious thought, language, behavioral and emotion regulation, as well as empathy and theory of mind—the ability to understand the feelings and intentions of others.”

And this large neocortex benefits your practice because, as we quoted in a recent article,“eighty-two percent of survey respondents said that doctor empathy was important, and many were even willing to overlook common grievances—like rescheduling shortly before an appointment, waiting to get an appointment or waiting a long time to actually see the doctor… if the doctor is empathetic.”

Listening and showing empathy are two great ways to make patients feel a sense of belonging.

You can also find evidence of your innate social needs by pulling your phone out of your pocket and opening your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram app. These apps are where a lot of us spend the majority of our waking hours, and they’ve been as successful as they are because we are so innately social. In fact, Facebook alone has 1.65 billion (yes, that’s billion with a ‘B’) monthly active users.

Because social media is so important to our society, you can help patients feel a sense of belonging by creating a strong social media presence and community around your practice. If you’re interested, Forbes has a fantastic list of 25 ways to grow your social media presence.

But how can you give your patients a true sense of belonging beyond empathizing with them and creating a strong social media community?

You can start with the most essential piece of the puzzle; something you can do right now: give patients a personalized experience each time they walk through the door for an appointment.

Ask yourself, “Does my front office staff –

  • greet the patient by his or her first name?”
  • know the names of the patient’s children?”
  • know what the the patient does for work?”

The majority of the time, the answer to those questions is probably no. One way to discover the answers these questions is to listen to a few recorded phone calls between your front office and your patients. If you don’t have a phone system that records all phone calls placed and received, it may be time to invest in one.

What about you as the doctor? Do you remember your patients names? Do you actively focus on building a personal relationship with each client?

HBR thinks you should do so, and they also promise you that “emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers.”

2. Patients are looking for a feeling of becoming the person they want to be

On top of fitting in, you also have the desire to succeed in life and become the person you’ve always wanted to be; we all do.

You’ve probably made a purchase in the past that you thought would help you become the person you want to be. Maybe you bought a Fitbit because you wanted to enjoy better health and well-being, or maybe you bought a collection of books because you wanted to be more informed and knowledgeable. The point is that beneath each purchase lurks a deeper and more driving emotional motivation.

One interesting example of the human drive to become better can be found in our economy and how we manage our time.

In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted his grandkids would work only fifteen hours each week. He believed economic prosperity, combined with new technology, would create so much wealth and efficiency that we’d be able to spend most of our time sipping mai tais on the beach and playing tennis (Keynes did once say his only regret in life was that he hadn’t drunk more champagne).

Although Keynes never had any kids, NPR’s Planet Money podcast tracked down some of his siblings’ grandchildren and asked them where they thought their great uncle went wrong in his prediction (it’s an interesting podcast worth a listen).

On the podcast they talk about—as just one example—NBA basketball players who land $100 million contracts. Why don’t they just take one contract, play for a few years, and then never work another day in their lives?

Richard Freedman, a Harvard economist, believes one of the important things Keynes underestimated was the human desire to compete and become better.

Your patients aren’t working 15-hour weeks. Instead, they’re constantly looking for ways to become the person they want to be—they’re setting goals, making plans, and constantly searching for anything that can help them improve.

Giving patients a better smile, improved oral health, the perfect prescription, or quality contact lenses can help them satisfy the emotional need to become who they want to be.

3. Patients are looking for ways to reduce stress, worry, and anxiety

Another emotional need you have is to have confidence in the future.

Did you know 40 percent of adults suffer from some form of anxiety disorder? Some of that anxiety and worry involves the health and well-being of our families.

One of our deepest motivations for going to see any kind of doctor is the reassurance that we’ll be healthy well into the future. Evidence of our health worries can be found in the size of the health and life insurance markets. According to Statista, “In 2015, the U.S. life and health insurance industry generated a total revenue of 848.2 billion U.S. dollars.

Tapping into this emotional need for patients to feel secure about their future health is a great strategy for getting inactive patients back in the door. Messaging that focuses on the benefits of preventative care – combined with effective recall tools, strategies, and software – can help your practice increase revenue and improve patient loyalty.

4. Patients are looking for health and wellness

Wellness is probably the most pertinent element of value for your practice.

Deep down, your patients don’t come to see you at your practice because they love visiting their dentist or optometrist; they come to see you because they want to feel like their family is healthy and well.

Is it any wonder that the global wellness industry is a $3.4 trillion market (3.4 times larger than the worldwide pharmaceutical industry)?

And the trend toward a greater focus on health is rapidly growing. Consider these statistics reported by USA Today reporter Bruce Horowitz:

  • 41% of Generation Z would be willing to pay more for healthier products
  • 26% of Generation X (1965-1979) would pay more for healthy food
  • Whereas only 16% of the Silent Generation (1925-1945) made a similar claim

We want to feel like we’re taking care of our bodies, and we do so largely by purchasing products and services that we believe will help us enjoy better health and wellbeing.

You can help your patients feel that sense of health and well-being by giving their family better smiles or healthier eyes.

5. Patients are looking for ways to feel more attractive and stand out from the crowd

It’s no secret: we want to stand out from the crowd.

In fact, Psychologists track something called the narcissism test. The narcissism test consists of reading people certain statements and asking whether or not the statements apply to them. Statements like “I like to be the center of attention” and “I show off if I get the chance because I’m extraordinary” and “somebody should write a biography about me.”

According to David Brooks in The Road to Character, “The median narcissism score has risen 30 percent in the last two decades. Ninety-three percent of young people score higher than the middle score just twenty years ago.”

In just the last two decades we’ve become substantially more concerned with feeling attractive and standing out from the crowd (hey, we’re not saying it’s a good thing; it’s just the truth). You can connect with patients emotionally by helping them feel attractive and stand out from the crowd.

6. Patients are looking to be informed

Yet another emotional need you have is feeling that you’re “in the know”. For whatever reason, we like to feel that we possess knowledge that the average person doesn’t. We also like the feeling of knowing that we have the knowledge we need to survive, thrive, and succeed in life.

You can connect with patients emotionally by informing them, and giving them secrets that will improve their lives. Imagine how big of an opportunity you have to teach and inform your patients. You spend the majority of your life studying one specific topic—certainly you have a lot of informative value to give.

7. Patients are looking for quality and value

Patients tend to be much more concerned with value than they are with price.

According to Nielsen’s 2011 Global Online Survey of more than 25,000 internet respondents across 51 countries, 61% of consumers rated “good value” over “low price”.

Your patients are most likely no different; they want to feel like they’re getting more value than the dollars leaving their pocket.

One way you can give patients this security is by reducing ambiguity. Often times patients are only aware of the final bill, but not each cost that went into the overall price. Making everything about cost completely clear from the get-go can help patients understand exactly what they’re paying for, and the value they’re receiving in exchange.

In fact, just yesterday my wife mentioned she was very happy with her recent doctor’s appointment because the nurse sat her down and explained the costs involved in a certain procedure, and showed her when each bill would need to be paid.

8. Patients are looking for options that help them avoid hassles

Even more certain than consumers’ desire for quality, is their impatience.

You’re probably reminded of that time when Louis CK went on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and ranted about how the younger generation is a “generation of spoiled idiots” (and if you’re not, that means you should probably watch it). “Give it a second! It’s going to space!”

Really though, how many times have you yelled at your computer because it makes you wait more than a few seconds to load a page? How many times have you nearly lost your mind because you had to wait in line at the grocery store for more than….I don’t know….fifteen minutes?

We hate hassles and we’ll do almost anything to avoid them; especially in our on-demand delivery world where you can literally purchase a Russian tank online and have it at your door within a matter of a couple of months.

You can make an emotional connection with your patients by investing in a Russian tank online….no, just kidding….by limiting the amount of hassles you create for them.

Even just calling a patient and leaving a voice message would be considered a hassle in our day in age. Now that you’ve left them a voice mail they have to take the time to listen to the message, call you back, and, most likely, enjoy a few minutes of being on hold.

Think we’re exaggerating?

According to CBS News, only 33 percent of people listen to voice mail from business contacts; and that number drops to 18 percent if the voice mail is from an unknown number. Although it’s hard to believe, even something as simple as a voice mail can be a hassle to us in the modern world.

The good news is, you can satisfy your patient’s emotional need to avoid hassles by doing something as simple as switching from calling and leaving voice messages to sending automated text message reminders.

9. Patients are looking for fun and entertainment

As always, keeping things fun and light can be a great way to help patients relax and feel more emotionally connected to your practice.

Sitting in a waiting room is never fun. You can drastically improve patient experience by giving patients something distracting to pass the time. When we’re doing nothing, time seems to move much slower than when we are busy. As William James, a respected psychiatrist and philosopher said, “boredom results from being attentive to the passage of time itself.”

Here are a few items that will help you entertain patients:

Free Wi-Fi

The majority of waiting rooms are full of current newspapers, magazines and other materials to read; however, consider offering a complimentary Wi-Fi service as well. This allows patients to use their electronic devices while they wait. Software Advice’s report indicates that 60 percent of those surveyed felt that having access to such a service would minimize their frustration in the waiting room.

Small tables

Consider placing a couple small tables in the waiting area. This gives patients a place to fill out paperwork or use their laptops. This also gives children the ability to do their homework while they wait.

Tablets for patient-use

Purchase a few inexpensive tablets for patients to use as they wait. Tether these tablets to the furniture or allow patients check them out and then return them when your staff calls the patient back. This is a great option in our internet-crazed world where Millennials Spend 18 Hours a Day Consuming Media.


Mount a television in the waiting area and turn on a family friendly channel. Today, many of the programs that target tweens and teens are designed to appeal to adults as well. Because the volume will be relatively low, remember to turn the closed captioning on.