Who Else Wants “Loyalty” In Healthcare?

Something about the idea of “loyalty” in healthcare rubs many healthcare professionals the wrong way. Giving incentives for repeat visits and additional care seems to violate the tenets of the Triple Aim by increasing costs and utilization. In that frame of mind, retail approaches to loyalty programs (card, discounts, coupons, frequent-touch campaigns, etc) feel grotesque. No one wants to offer “buy-one, get-one” incentives for HbA1c tests, for example.

But retail clinics, managed by retailers with long expertise in holding on to customers and triggering customer behavior, have begun to change the playing field. Retailer Walgreen’s for example, has been offering loyalty points for healthy behaviors and activities. And they’ve seen successful outcomes as well.

Earlier this month, the retailer released some promising numbers that help make this case:

  • Active loyalty members who tracked weight measurements lost an average of 3.3 pounds, with more than one-in-four participants losing at least six pounds. In addition, those who also logged at least one mile of steps per day lost an average of 3.7 pounds.
  • New loyalty program participants taking diabetes medications who also earned points tracking blood glucose levels demonstrated 5.4 percentage points higher adherence, while participants who logged steps for walking and running demonstrated 7.9 percentage points higher adherence.
  • New program participants taking antihypertension medications who also earned points tracking blood pressure levels demonstrated 2.6 percentage points higher adherence, while participants who logged steps for walking and running demonstrated 2.4 percentage points higher adherence.

Source: “Small Steps, Big Benefits,” Walgreens.

In other words, extrinsic rewards help do the work that intrinsic regards such as healthier lives may not. It may be that extrinsic principles such as the engagement of the patient can begin to motivate care providers more directly, too.

I’d call for CMOs, healthcare marketers, patient communication professionals, and care providers to open up the doors to inspiration from retailers (not just those in the clinic space), hotels, restaurant chains, airlines, etc. Watch the programs they roll out, and follow key influence organizations such as Loyalty 360 and the NPS Loyalty Forum. You’ll assimilate what leading thinkers and practitioners in the customer loyalty arena have to offer with a decade and more of experience behind them.

After all, these industries, with all their differences, are less unlike us than we might think. At the heart of all of them, and of healthcare, too, lies the notion that a service is delivered at a particular point in time, after a consumer has chosen between a wide set of options, whose value depends on the quality of experience at that point, and whose value increases over time if it triggers an engaged relationship.

That’s why it’s time for those of us in the healthcare profession to stop turning up our noses at loyalty, and make creative leaps from the well-known science of customer loyalty to our fledgling awareness of patient engagement as we improve care.

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