There has been much in the medical press recently about the changes in the way medical insurance companies are reimbursing consultants in private practice. The private practice insured market is more uncertain and variable than ever before.
As recorded previously in the offline publication Independent Practitioner, (March 2012), there has always been a percentage of people who have sought private healthcare without having an insurance policy. Hospital waiting lists and rationing of procedures on the NHS means that more people are being pushed into the private sector. There is also a growing demand for individuals to self-pay for one-off treatments which than can do os by a fixed price option.
Figures from Laing and Buisson indicate that 15% (and growing) of independent hospital revenue comes from self-pay patients. Self pay spending grew by 2.8% in real terms in 2011, the third consecutive year to do so. Whereas payouts from PMI policies showed a fall in real terms of 2.9% in 2011 and 3.2% in 2010.
Recent figures for the Bupa On Demand show that more than a third of customers are aged 25-39 dispelling the myths about older populations being the prime target audience and Key Note forecasts that the total UK private healthcare market will grow by 24.8% over the next 5 years, with a growth rate of over 5% forecast annually. Certainly, our experience at MultiWorks Marketing is that of sustained growth in the self-pay sector.
A Typical Self Pay Patient
Be under no illusion your patients have searched for you online before they come and see you. Some will visit you because you have been recommended but the majority will have taken time to search for you, find out about you, find out about your success rates, find out about your costs and find out about how other people have perceived you.
Your private practice is entirely generated by you. Some practitioners think that all private practice is finite and that if person X appears to have the lion’s share, that will mean that there is not much left for others. This is not necessarily true as market forces and competition are always healthy aspects of any market and certainly accurate and appropriate marketing has a major role to play here. There is always an opportunity to find self pay patients.
As a private practice practitioner, you are providing a service and it is in the provision of this service that you can make a difference with information you provide and with the transparency of your practice. Our clients are encouraged wherever possible to make this the focus of their practice, such as its importance. Whilst this might go against the grain, it is proving to be very successful for many.
Find Self Pay Patients – Where?
Increasingly, they are coming less from their GP. They are finding information for themselves online, in publications or from friends and making their own choices. Coming from a medical background in nursing and research, we focus on providing information in a simple way that could be understood by the majority. Together with the correct marketing, you can be in control of this and ensure that the right information is being disseminated and understood.
Our top tips on how to find self pay patients.
Firstly, really understand the needs of your new patient.
Imagine that you are one of your patients. Your problem has become all consuming and you have decided that you need to find a solution You have options. You can either visit your GP, google your problem or ask a friend or use a combination of all 3. Your aim, in the self pay market, is to be easily found online with easily accessible information so that you can become the beginning of the answer to the problem.
Know what you can provide well for your patients.
Is there a new procedure that can be advantageous? Is this something that your private hospital advertises. Can you introduce it? Our experience with niche medical procedures has identified growing local and national markets when potential customers are presented with information that can be easily understood. People will also travel if they feel that they have confidence in the information that they obtain from you but this only comes with a positive, appropriate online presence.
In our experience, most doctors seem to write their websites for other doctors and not for patients and there are some truly awful ones out there. Have you stood back and really examined it and felt happy with how it looks. A good website should be a good reflection of how you are in practice. We design websites to ensure that these key factors are a priority: easily accessible and simply explained. Your website’s major aim is to help you find self pay patients so what investment did you make to achieve this or did you ask your teenager or a friend’s geeky child to do it for you? Or a family friend? This is a business and needs to be treated as such. Therefore your website needs the input of how a user would find it helpful, how the information is portrayed and how the methods to contact you work, if at all.
It may seem that the service you have to offer is provided by many others so what can you add to make your service better. What will make your patients happy or happier?
Transparency of benefits.
This can be provided by information given on your website and from testimonials, the holy grail of any business. Other peoples’ positive experiences speak volumes for the benefits to be gained. A proper testimonial is unsolicited, not part of a patient feedback questionnaire but written from the heart spontaneously, by them to you. They should always be dated, kept in whole (without breaking confidentiality) and be kept on record. Finally, they should be highly visible. This is the ultimate proof that what you say you do, actually happens. Our experience with different medical niches has found that patients often cite these as a reason for visiting a practitioner so they must never be underestimated.
Who is the first contact when people try and contact you? Is it your lovely secretary who superbly fields all aggravation away so you do not have too many things to deal with? Or are they kind and encouraging on the phone providing information and clarity so that they give you a positive image? This first contact cannot be underestimated in that negative experiences will mean that those enquiring will just move on. They have a choice and if they have to make more effort than they think is necessary, they will certainly find another provider. I have had people say to me that after they waited 6 weeks for an appointment from A.N. Consultant, so they decided to look elsewhere. This is unforgivable and certainly not what a self-paying patient is willing to put up with. Our practice management service has helped others to develop a marketing approach which guides all involved to develop high quality customer service and with great successes.
Clear and consistent information about how and when appointments happen together with a transparent pricing structure all help to indicate how organised you are as an individual. You need to have a recognised person or secretary who knows about your private practice (if they are not working with you already) so that simple and easy questions can be answered quickly and happily. Theatre booking should be the same. Do you really have to control your theatre list? Can your secretary not do this, and do it well and meet the needs of your new private patients as well? We have introduced organisation and systems which are pivotal in the smooth and efficient running of a practice.
Some larger healthcare groups now have fixed prices for some or all self-pay procedures. Do you charge significantly more than this? Is there value in what you provide to warrant any additional cost? However the price is agreed, your secretary must know them and have them immediately to hand. Again, if someone is turned away because the price has yet to be determined, then they will use their time to find other providers who do have transparency in their prices. Your pricing should be highly visible on your website along with ways of capturing potential leads so that people can make further enquiries – all parts of a highly successful marketing approach.
In the NHS, audit is a constant factor in professional life and it needs to be like this in the private sector too. Your successes and experience need to be published. It helps prospective patients to see the number that you have performed and the outcomes that you have. Success breeds success and so the more information that you can provide, the better informed your patients’ and you will be about your care.
It is very helpful if your private hospital can provide a fixed package of care. If they do, then this will be an added value to your procedure as the self pay patient does want to have a clear indication of the total costs involved. If a follow-up is required, is this included in the total price, is it an extra afterwards (if so why) or do you provide it for free – the choice is yours. What are your local “competitors” doing and then match this with what your gut response is. Ultimately, you want to provide a high quality service that people will want to talk to others about and in turn, they will seek you out.
Have you tried using your private hospital website – can you find yourself easily? Discuss with your secretary how you can have more information available for prospective patients. One of the worst things we have seen is a stuffing of keywords relating to operations a surgeon would like to do if he/she had the chance rather than a focus on what he/she does really well. The patient is looking for someone who is really proficient. You are trying to find self pay patients so be attractive for the right reasons.
Do you have a high quality website that projects you, your practice or the surgery you perform? Can it be easily found online? Enabling search engines to find you, for the terms you want to be found for, consistently takes significant time and effort and is best left to online marketing experts.
Your private practice is a market driven business. The most successful aspects of any business are the customers, the customer service you provide, feedback and management. All work together symbiotically to create a very successful whole. Successful marketing from experienced professionals can improve your bottom line dramatically. You invest in your business and the growth with rewards will follow.
If you would like to talk through your practice or consider a marketing programme, please contact us today.