There are a number of articles in the press regarding the current demands on the NHS resulting in increased waiting times. A recent BBC news article suggests that long NHS waiting times appear to be pushing people into paying for private treatment. Data suggests that there were 69,000 self-funded treatments in the UK in the final three months of 2021 – representing a 39% rise from the same period before the pandemic.
Given this, we look at 5 things private practice should consider to meet the needs of self-pay patients.
1. Consider the needs of self-pay patients
The headline numbers, which currently suggest 6.6 million people are on NHS waiting lists, lead us to believe that this will result in an influx of patients turning to private healthcare for treatment. While this assumption will no doubt lead to more private patients as people seek out alternative treatment options, it is necessary to consider other factors.
Not all patients facing long NHS waiting times will have the funds to turn to private healthcare, especially with the current increase in the cost-of-living crisis that adds even more financial pressure.
To be effective, a private practice needs to consider exactly which patients they are trying to attract. Considering the exact patient profile and developing an understanding of what they are looking for will mean services can be tailored specifically to those looking for private healthcare.
With the added financial constraints faced by many, offering treatment payment plans is likely to be a key consideration for many self-pay patients.
2. Understand the private healthcare market
Developing an understanding of the conditions within the current private healthcare market will assist in creating an effective strategy for private practice.
In addition to the higher demand for services from patients, recent figures from PHIN suggest that there is a 12% reduction in the number of active consultants in private healthcare from July-Dec 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.
With the increase in demand from self-pay patients due to NHS waiting times and a reduction in the number of private consultants, there is likely to be an increased number of enquiries received from patients seeking advice and treatment.
If systems and staff capacity in are not available to deal with an increased number of patient enquiries within private practice, this could have a negative impact.
It is vital to develop a robust business strategy that includes reviewing receptionist and PA capacity to ensure an adequate number of experienced staff are available to respond to enquiries and manage the treatment journey of self-pay patients.
3. Keep a clear and consistent message
By understanding the needs of self-pay patients, it is possible to develop a clear and consistent message that relates to your audience.
If you specialise in diagnostic testing it would be beneficial to develop specific offerings that will make these services relevant. For example, tailoring specific well-woman or well-man health screening packages rather than simply listing individual diagnostic tests that people may not understand. This helps present what you do in an easy-to-digest format.
It is also important to make sure that you highlight the key aspects of your service and address the key issues that self-pay patients have. Most potential patients will want to know about your practice and experience, how quickly they can be seen, what is involved and how much it will cost.
Presenting this information in an upfront and clear manner will help inform patients about your practice and lead to enquiries from those that are looking for a treatment that you provide.
4. Develop an effective online presence
Given that there are fewer active consultants in private healthcare and there is likely to be more demand from self-pay patients looking for treatments, it is essential to make sure your practice can be found by these patients.
Data from PHIN suggests that while London continues to be the most active self-pay market, there has been increased demand in other geographic areas. Self-pay patient numbers between October and December 2021 compared to 2019 have increased 90% in Wales, 84% in Scotland and 75% in the East Midlands.
This means that offering services remotely and attracting enquiries from these growing geographic areas is a crucial factor to consider.
The best way to do this is to have an effective online presence, which starts with having a website that clearly outlines what you offer. It is then necessary to ensure your website is found by those self-pay patients looking for treatments. There are many ways to achieve this but implementing a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Content Marketing Plan will help ensure your website attracts enquiries from your specific target audience.
5. Monitor and review
It is vital to monitor and review all activities to determine how effectively your private practice meets the needs of self-pay patients.
Performing patient surveys, monitoring call enquiries, and reviewing marketing activity will help develop a better understanding of what elements are working and where modifications might be necessary.
For example, monitoring website visitors and where this traffic is coming from will help inform whether your current strategy is working and more importantly provide insights into what potential patients are looking for when they visit your website.
Regularly monitoring and reviewing these aspects of your business will help to tailor your service in a way that meets the needs of patients.
There is no doubt that the increasing NHS waiting times will lead to an increase in the number of patients turning to private healthcare. The challenge for private practice is to ensure it understands the demands of this market and can effectively attract and deliver treatments to these patients.
Achieving this requires developing a robust strategy that includes ensuring effective levels of experienced staff to deal with an increase in patient enquiries looking for treatment advice.
With the demand for self-pay treatment increasing in other geographic areas in addition to London, there is a need to implement effective marketing to reach patients in these areas. Developing an effective online website presence together with ongoing monitoring will better place private practice to meet the needs of self-pay patients.
At Designated Medical we are experts in providing flexible, experienced support for all your private practice needs. An integrated approach allows our carefully selected team members to embed into your practice, allowing you to concentrate on delivering exceptional service and care for your patients. Our experts offer bespoke support across Accountancy, Bookkeeping, Medical PA and Marketing. Our team can work to suit your requirements – tailored to your practice, as and when we support is needed.