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3 ways to drive consumer loyalty for groups facing health disparities

January 18, 2018

    Health disparities don't just affect clinical outcomes for traditionally underserved populations—they also impact a major driver of hospitals' bottom line: consumer loyalty.

    Some major drivers of consumer loyalty are similar across all patients: They must know they need care, want to get care, and think to return to you. But there are special considerations that hospitals need to keep in mind when it comes to securing loyalty from patients impacted by health disparities, such as those from certain racial or ethnic groups or those from low-income households. Securing consumer loyalty from under-resourced patients is especially important because their long-term cost of care may be higher than those of other populations.

    Below are three key insights Advisory Board's Health Disparities Initiative and Market Innovation Center have identified to make sure patients return to your hospital, and how they differ for patients affected by health disparities. To learn more, download our Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Briefing, which provides an initial framework to guide providers in addressing health disparities. We also encourage you to register for our Feb. 1 webconference, "Advancing Health Equity," to learn best practices to pinpoint the areas of health inequity in your community and improve outcomes for at-risk patients.

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    1. Make sure patients know they need care

    Patients who need follow-up care might fail to receive it unless your organization clearly communicates the right next steps in their care plan and makes it easy to take those next steps. Making a warm handoff—a method of service integration in which one care team introduces the patient to the next care team they should see—can go a long way. Warm handoffs are particularly important when the connected services have been traditionally stigmatized (e.g., sexual health or mental health services).

    Establishing an immediate connection with the next site of care or service can be especially valuable for low-income patients, who may have more issues with accessing and paying for care. For such patients, the care navigator (or the person fulfilling a similar role) should ensure that the next site of care is easy to physically access and is covered through insurance or offered at a reasonable cost.

    2. Motivate patients to continue with their care

    Navigators can drive patient loyalty by helping patients understand why their care is necessary and valuable. Traditional navigators guide patients through disease- or procedure-specific pathways, but progressive providers have shifted their navigators from specializing in a service to cultivating emotional buy-in for a specific population.

    Privia Medical Group employs both disease-specific and population-specific navigators, who are familiar with the spectrum of health needs of a particular population (e.g., women; elderly patients; patients with multiple comorbidities). Because these navigators follow patients beyond one particular care pathway, they can keep patients engaged in what could otherwise be confusing medical situations: For example, a navigator can help a patient understand the importance of making appointments with two different specialists.

    3. Ensure patients think to return to you

    Your organization must stay relevant so that patients think of you first when they need care in the future. One way to do this is to offer services that patients will access often and that help them stay well—rather than just treating them for an illness. Virtua Health opened three fitness centers to increase the amount of interactions patients had with the health system and to strengthen the connection to brand.

    Offering wellness services can be particularly beneficial for communities that suffer from disparate health outcomes and have low access to health care, because they can help reduce long-term health costs. However, it's important to make sure that these wellness services are financially and physically accessible for such patients. They should not just be located in higher-income neighborhoods, and you should consider implementing sliding-scale pricing or offering certain services at no cost—especially since utilizing services can lower patients' costs of care over time.

    How to build the business case for community partnership

    Download our white paper to learn how to develop and leverage community partnerships to address the root causes of local health challenges.

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