How ACOs can retain patients through loyalty programs

Loyalty programs like ones offered by airlines and hotels that offer customer perks and rewards could help accountable care organizations (ACOs) retain patients, according to an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Patient retention is a problem for many practices, including for the Pioneer ACO program, which lost 38 percent of its patients after a year, researchers at the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation write in the post.

Good loyalty programs could offer patients benefits such as vouchers for free parking, cafeteria discounts, preferred rates at restaurants or hotels, or cab or bus vouchers, according to the article. The benefits can grow over time to ensure people with the greatest health needs receive the most rewards. The programs also could extend to medical supply companies, pharmacies and other ancillary providers, and potentially be tailored to individual patients, the authors suggest.

In addition, health systems could benefit if their loyalty programs encourage patients to seek care with affiliated clinicians, the article noted. That could help ACOs save money by discouraging patients from seeking more costly care. Loyalty program members also are more likely to see the health system in a positive light. 

ACOs, however, would need to guard against designing programs that create "perverse incentives" for frequent healthcare users. One way to avoid that is to base preferred tiers on length of membership and loyalty to affiliated clinicians and centers rather than on visits or hospitalizations, the authors noted. Such tiers also could make benefits more accessible to lower-income patients, according to the article.

Some hospitals are already offering such programs. Botsford Hospital in Farmington Hills, Michigan, issued customer loyalty cards as far back as 2010, FierceHealthcare has previously reported. Perks included free parking, discounted nonprescription drugs, discounts at restaurants and service establishments, and even organized outings and vacations. 

Experts also have argued that healthcare providers could learn a lot from retailers including CVS, Target and Walmart to extend their reach and offer convenient, low-cost care to improve population health.

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