June 1, 2021 | Net Health

3 Minute Read

How Recent Patient Retention Trends Impact Outpatient Therapy

Patient retention is a metric every clinic will struggle with at some point or another, especially among outpatient therapy settings. However, the recent events of the COVID-19 pandemic brought attendance to a screeching halt for all providers at once — and the verdict is still out on just how much patient retention will rise in upcoming months.

Is it possible that recent patient retention trends are indicative of a larger, more systemic issue? If this is the case, how will these metrics influence the effectiveness of a clinic? Consider how recent patient retention trends impact outpatient therapy and what providers can do about it. 

Patient Retention Sharply Declined During the Pandemic

Over the course of the past 12 months, thousands of providers have spent weeks on end staring at empty office waiting rooms. Many providers returned back to the drawing board, brainstorming new solutions to attract existing patients into outpatient therapy. Most opted for a combination of in-office visits and telehealth, of which the latter grew by more than 50% during the COVID-19 pandemic.¹ 

Unfortunately, not even the introduction of virtual medical appointments was able to stabilize the nationwide rate of patient retention. A whopping 41% of patients completely avoided medical care in the early months of the pandemic.² Even worse, of those who reported needing medical attention during those initial months, 52% reported skipping care.³ 

The sharp decline in patient retention seemed to impact outpatient therapy settings especially hard:⁴

  • 58% missed scheduled preventative care
  • 26% missed an outpatient general medical appointment
  • 8% missed an outpatient mental health appointment
  • 6% missed an elective surgery

When researchers dug into the reasoning behind missed appointments, 57% claimed they feared COVID-19 exposure and 7% blamed financial repercussions of the pandemic.⁵ However, earlier findings suggest that these more recent trends may be foreshadowing a larger issue.

Is This a New Trend, or an Existing Issue?

When news broke that patient retention declined sharply throughout 2020, many immediately pointed fingers at the pandemic. Indeed, many patients did cite various COVID-related causes for skipping their scheduled episode of care. Yet, pre-pandemic research published by Becker’s Hospital Review indicates that poor patient retention has been an issue five years in the making.

In a 2016 study, analysts discovered that approximately 33% of patients do not follow-up with specialists to whom they are referred.⁶ Another 40% of patients who do follow through with a referral never follow-up with their primary physician after care is provided.⁷ 

Failing to adhere to a medical plan of care has long been plaguing the American people, even before the pandemic. In the United States alone, lack of adherence is responsible for at least 10% of hospitalizations and has caused an estimated 125,000 deaths per year.⁸ Now providers are wondering, how is this lack of retention affecting outpatient therapy clinics?

How a Lack of Retention Impacts Outpatient Therapy 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nonadherence to medical plans of care has been estimated to cost the American healthcare system between $100 billion and $289 billion annually.⁹ For individual outpatient clinics, the effects of minimal patient engagement and incomplete episodes of care can be more far-reaching. 

A survey by the American Medical Association (AMA) regarding the pandemic’s impact on business provides a glimpse into the financial pressures outpatient therapy settings continue to experience — including a 32% drop in revenue since February 2020.¹⁰ 

With patients failing to attend appointments, there’s no functional improvement to show. No patients means no patient engagement, and no functional improvement means poor clinician performance. Considering MIPS reporting heavily relies on strong patient engagement and clinician performance, outpatient therapy clinics could be losing even more money due to poor retention.

Learn How to Boost Patient Retention Today

Poor patient retention is a wide-sweeping issue, but it doesn’t have to be the new normal. As patients begin to return to everyday life, ensure they return to your practice as well. Download the new ebook, “4 Patient Retention Strategies for Outpatient Therapy” to learn how to attract patients to your outpatient clinic today.

4 Patient Retention Strategies for Outpatient Therapy

Suggestions for Ensuring Patients Complete their Episodes of Care


¹ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Trends in Use of Telehealth Among Health Centers During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” February 19, 2021. 
², ³,⁴, ⁵, ¹⁰ American Medical Association, “Why 41% of Patients Have Skipped Care During COVID-19 Pandemic,” February 15, 2021.
⁶, ⁷ Becker’s Hospital Review, “3 Important Statistics About Provider Referrals,” August 16, 2016.
⁸, ⁹ ACP Journals, “Interventions to Improve Adherence to Self-administered Medications for Chronic Diseases in the United States,” December 4, 2012. 

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