How to Improve Patient Retention

Patient attrition (losing interest and dropping out) is a serious problem for many addiction treatment centers. According to some studies, as many as 80 percent of people who seek treatment fail to stick it out 

Attrition can happen at any stage of the treatment process: after the initial inquiry, during the first onsite interview, after check-in, even during physical detox. It can happen shortly after physical detox, when the patient is mobile and feeling “cured.” It can happen during a post-detox stay in residential treatment. 

And, of course, patient attrition can happen in the course of long-term outpatient programs. Since CaredFor specializes in alumni marketing and alumni support considerations, this article will focus on ways to reduce patient attrition after detox. 

Residential Treatment Centers vs. Outpatient Treatment Centers

For motivation to remain in recovery, residential treatment has obvious advantages over outpatient. Patients are removed from potential relapse triggers. They are guaranteed a healthy diet, adequate rest and quick access to experienced counselors. And, “I’m too tired to travel that far” is eliminated as an excuse for skipping follow-up treatment. 

On the other hand, residential treatment can’t solve all patient-attrition problems, because many insurance providers pay only for short stays; because many patients (and many employers) prefer a prompt return to everyday responsibilities; and because no patient can stay in residential beyond a few months. 

The value of residential treatment can nonetheless be carried into the outside world, when providers remember two key points: Help patients plan commutes to ongoing treatment. And, even more important, provide quick contact with support partners—preferably via alumni apps or virtual versions of support groups and therapy.  

The Importance of Family Involvement

Rarely does addiction affect only the person who has it: everyone in the household is involved, often reinforcing the addiction without realizing it. When a patient’s family is also committed to treatment, there’s extra motivation to continue.

Therefore, another rule of patient retention is: Always provide active support for families of addicts. If you use addiction-treatment alumni apps, make them available to every family member. 

Key Principle: Show Alumni What’s in It For Them 

Patients who feel no one cares about their legitimate needs, or about them as people, are much more likely to drift away than patients who feel understood and supported. If you want alumni to find you worth sticking with: 

  • Answer their communications promptly—without leaving room for doubt you actually read/listened to what they said. 

  • Be empathetic, even when you can’t fix everything according to patient preference. (And do give them what they want when feasible.) 

  • When long periods pass without communications from a patient, you contact them. In many cases of attrition, doctors never even see the patient go. 

  • Organize alumni events to retain patient interest. 

  • Encourage patients to share their dreams for the future—and let patients know you believe in their success. 

And always, always, always treat patients as the unique individuals they are! 


About the Author

Katherine Swarts is a Houston-based freelance writer specializing in mental-health and positive-living topics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, bird-watching, volunteering with cats at the SPCA, and hanging out in unique coffee shops. Her e-book, 100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World, is available on Amazon. 


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