The Hidden Cost of Managing Prospective Patients

By Ram Krishnan, CEO, Valant
Twitter: @Valant

Coordinating new patient inquiries is a top priority for both solo practitioners and managers of multi-provider behavioral health clinics. Prospective patient management may seem routine but it can be cost-prohibitive, if not handled correctly. Today, the hidden costs of managing prospective patients and mitigating those costs have a direct impact on the success of a behavioral healthcare practice.

The Cost of Managing New Mental Health Patients

Some might not think of prospective patient management as an expensive endeavor. Theoretically, practices could develop a spreadsheet to keep track of new inquiries and contact information without spending a dime, right?

In reality, the financial drain of prospective patient management isn’t that straightforward. It costs productive work hours. It also costs prospective patients, who fall away early in the process—a loss that will happen frequently if a practice doesn’t have an extremely efficient system.

Cost in Staff Hours

Managing the list of potential clients eats up hours of time each week—time that could be spent on other management tasks that would help a practice grow. Manual prospect tracking includes answering phone inquiries, monitoring and responding to email inquiries, following up on communication with prospects, collecting information on mental health symptoms and insurance coverage, manually entering client information into a prospective patient database, and more.

Reviewing the prospective patient database regularly to manage follow-ups can be time-intensive, as well as manually converting prospective patient accounts into regular patient accounts if/when the patient seeks treatment at a clinic.

Cost in Lost Prospects

If there is the slightest hitch in the way new patient inquiries are coordinated, it can push a hesitant individual away. For example, if a potential client emails or leaves a voicemail and doesn’t hear back promptly, they might make arrangements with another practice or clinic that responded right away. That clinic will win the business.

Or, if they are on the fence about seeking treatment, the delay in setting an appointment may give them time to get cold feet and back out. Similar problems occur if there is a disorganized follow-up process. For example, if a practice initiates a conversation with a potential patient and needs to either follow up or answer a question. If the office forgets to reach out, the patient may not make the effort to reach back out to the practice. Once again, money is left on the table.

First Impressions Matter

When a practice responds promptly and successfully follows up, they could still lose the potential patient if they get a bad first impression of the practice. First impressions are crucial because so many patients already feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. They’re struggling with mental health symptoms and with the self-consciousness of sharing their vulnerability with a stranger. If a practice seems disorganized, indifferent or otherwise unpleasant to deal with, they won’t want to engage.

A few things that can quickly turn a new mental health patient off include:

  • Lack of a welcoming demeanor from staff
  • Long wait times to hear back
  • Obvious disorganization—for example, two different staff members following up with them separately

Coordinating New Patient Inquiries

An EHR is an easy place to store and access records of inquiries. Contact information, the date of their inquiry, any symptoms they’ve reported, and any records of follow-up from other staff can be retrieved. That helps practices:

  • Follow up in a timely manner
  • Prioritize follow-up criteria (in the order first received, by diagnosis, by urgency, etc.)
  • Avoid disorganized reach-out strategies
  • Have answers in hand about insurance coverage and best-fit providers

An advanced prospect management system can go beyond that and automate more steps in the process. For example, online inquiry forms can save staff phone calls and email monitoring. If the inquiry form integrates directly into the EHR, practices don’t have to key in prospect information.

Prospect to Patient Ratio

Too many mental health clinics don’t track how many prospects they convert and how many they lose each year, even though this information could greatly inform their financial strategy.
To figure out how many prospects actually convert to new patients without getting lost along the way, practices can review the number of inquiries received each month and tally the number of new mental health patients who actually schedule treatment. Practices might find that they are losing a greater percentage of prospects than they think.

This could be a sign that it’s time to improve overall operational and technology processes. Although it may take an investment of time upfront for a practice to overhaul its prospective patient management, it will be worth the effort in the long run.