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Improving Patient Retention Rates in Behavioral Health

In today’s world of convenience, it is simple to search for a product or service you need online, order it, and move on with your life with very little interruption. Often, once a consumer has received their product or service, they never have contact with the vendor again. Their transaction over, there is no need for additional communication.

In the health industry, however, particularly in the field of behavioral health, it is much more important that the patient and doctor build a relationship of trust. Several factors can be involved in a patient’s physical and mental state, and past relationships can be crucial in diagnosing and treating the patient and maintaining the patient’s health.

This becomes difficult when patients regularly miss appointments or simply stop coming at all. One study of 2,338 mental health appointments showed that 13 percent of those appointments were not attended. Of those missed appointments, 17 percent were attributed to motivational issues—low motivation for treatment, the patient regularly missing, patients forgetting appointments, etc.—while another 13 percent didn’t show up due to negative reactions to the treatment.

So how can behavioral health professionals improve their retention rates and keep their patients coming back? What steps can clinics take to build those relationships of trust?

1. It starts the instant they walk in.

If patients are uncomfortable in your waiting room, chances are they won’t want to come back. Long waits are particularly off-putting. Becker’s Hospital Review, a monthly medical publication, reported that 97 percent of patients are frustrated with their wait times and that 20 percent of those patients would be willing to pay an additional fee for faster service. Clinics should make sure that their front desk staff are properly trained in streamlining the process and ensuring that patients feel comfortable while waiting. While it may be impossible to eliminate wait times, a friendly and well-organized office can work miracles for patient retention.

2. Make the process simple.

The more difficult it is for a patient to make an appointment, register as a new patient, pay any fees, or fill out a medical history, the less likely they will be to return. Streamlining the process as much as possible can be a valuable investment that brings exponential returns. If the clinic uses an automated phone system to route calls, customize it so that the patient has a short, intuitive path to schedule a new appointment. Look into digital check-in solutions that automatically populate with the patient’s information, allowing the patient to avoid repeatedly filling out duplicate information on each visit. Patients will remember a visit that goes particularly smoothly, and they will be more likely to return.

3. Stay at the front of the patient’s mind.

Often, as patients put off office visits, it gets further and further from their main train of thought, and eventually, it gets forgotten. Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent that from happening. Reaching out to patients with opportunities to be educated, such as free seminars on new developments in your field, can prevent them from forgetting, and can even build a positive and hopeful mindset around their condition, rather than a negative stigma. Promotions can help as well, particularly in behavioral health, which may not always be covered by insurance.

4. Don’t let them slip through the cracks.

One of the most effective steps a behavioral healthcare provider can take in keeping patients coming back is to make sure that those patients don’t slip through the cracks. When it comes to mental health, many patients are simply resistant to attending their appointments, particularly in the beginning. In these cases, it may fall to the clinic to encourage them to come in regularly. Set up a system for monitoring patients and flagging those who haven’t been in for a certain period of time. Once the patient’s record has been flagged, reach out to the patient and send reminders to let them know that it is time to schedule another appointment.

Make sure that your reminders are clear and easy to navigate. According to the practice growth platform PatientPop, reminder emails should contain clear contact information to allow the patient to call in, or even a direct link to the clinic’s online booking site, allowing them to book an appointment immediately.

Often, simply reaching out to the patient does a lot to boost the relationship. If a patient recognizes that the healthcare provider is looking out for them, it builds trust towards that provider. Making an effort to see each patient as a distinct individual shows that they are more than just a number, and that the healthcare provider genuinely wants to help them, and that is not something they are likely to easily forget.

Dennis Hung is a medical consultant specializing in patient communication and private practice growth. He works with healthcare providers across the continental United States. Dennis can be contacted at

business development, education, effort, genuine, healthcare, healthcare providers, marketing, mental health, patient retention, simplicity, trust

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