Some patients leave your practice for reasons that aren’t your fault: they get new jobs, move out of town, or change insurance.

But some patients leave for reasons that are your fault. As June Scarlett, Formativ Health’s Chief Patient Access Officer, says, “The biggest reason for patients leaving a practice is poor service.” People change providers, she explains, “based on how they’re treated or how difficult it is to get an appointment—things that have nothing to do with your clinical care.”

Studies show that a significant number of patients are willing to leave their provider. A 2017 survey found that 24 percent of individuals ages 53 to 70 had switched practices in the past year, and some 54 percent of those ages 21 to 34 had moved on in the past two to three years. The study also found that those ages 35 to 52 were very likely to switch physicians in the next few years.

Many of these patients switch, or are willing to switch, because they want a better customer experience. No matter the business, customers put a premium on convenience, service, and affordability. The rising popularity of retail health clinics—particularly among millennials—is a sure sign that the right customer experience can help attract and retain healthcare customers.

What can physicians and practices do to provide a better experience? Scarlett recommends focusing on “that first touch point.” When prospective patients reach out—online, in person, or over the phone—they are looking for an efficient and professional experience. “If they have to wait too long, or if the process is cumbersome, they will leave,” Scarlett says.

To address the problem, Scarlett says, staff should be trained to be courteous and calm, and to show sensitivity to patients’ concerns and preferences. Practices should evaluate the processes that patients go through when seeking care. A complicated experience—involving multiple questionnaires that ask redundant questions, for example—is sure to frustrate a prospective patient.

Scarlett also says that practices should “do a better job with appointment scheduling and wait times.” A 2016 survey of 13,000 providers found that, on average, a new patient who waits more than a month for a first appointment is more than twice as likely to cancel, and not reschedule, as a new patient who gets an appointment within a week. Centralized systems are available, Scarlett says, that can help practices “streamline scheduling and manage capacity.”

Remember, your practice is a business. And all businesses, from a corner café to a multinational company, must provide friendly, high-quality service in order to attract and retain customers. If your practice is neglecting to return phone calls, falling behind on scheduling appointments, or drowning patients in paperwork, people will seek a better experience elsewhere—no matter how good your doctors are.

Want to learn more about keeping patients? Check out our white paper, Happy Patients Come Back, to learn more.