How your patients feel about the care you provide is arguably the most important measure of your success in private practice. It is essential that patients receive good treatment that improves their health, and this is a fundamental and measurable element of your care.
But there are many other factors that influence how a patient feels about your care and it is all these elements that form the patient experience. You want your patients’ experience to be as good as possible.
YOUR PATIENT should be at the centre of your patient experience strategy and every interaction your patient has with your practice is important.
Who are your patients?
The best way to ensure you are putting your patients first is to think about the patient’s journey, considering the three stages of before, during and after care. Before we do that though, we should start by discussing who your patients are, so you have a clear view of what is important to your typical patient.
Your patients must be at the centre of every aspect of your thinking. To improve patient experience, then, patients must be put first and we must keep patients happy.
When producing any strategy, and particularly when considering patient experience, the key components to consider are your vision statement and your goals and objectives.
Your Vision and Mission Statement
Your vision statement focuses on tomorrow and describes what you want to become. Many companies create both a mission and vision statement, with their mission statement describing what they are today.
If we take HCA Healthcare for example, its mission and vision statements are as follows:
Mission – Our mission is to provide compassionate care and exceptional service to every patient, every day.
Vision – Our vision is to be a world-class hospital.
It also has a clear set of values, which you can see listed on its website and you may find these interesting and potentially helpful.
In developing your patient experience strategy, you may wish to develop your mission and vision statement and your values, and I would highly encourage this.
As a minimum, I suggest you need clarity on what you aspire to be and therefore your vision statement is essential.
Your patient experience vision must be entirely patient-focused and should describe what you aspire to be in the experience of your patients.
Your vision will become your roadmap. Writing a single statement that encapsulates this is difficult and you may prefer to write a small number of statements that give you clarity and communicate these to your team.
Armed with your vision statement, the next step is to clarify the goals and objectives that need to be achieved to deliver this ambition and make it reality.
It is often easier to set quantitative goals that are tangible and we often see these described as service levels. READ MORE…
Most practices will be receiving patient feedback on a regular basis. This can range from the quiet chat with the receptionist or medical secretary, to the hand-delivered box of chocolates or the hopefully infrequent irate phone call or email. But how are you collecting these reviews, measuring your patients’ satisfaction and dealing with complaints?
establish an open team culture encouraging all feedback to be shared
encourage patients to share their reviews on your Facebook page, google and other social media accounts
send patients links to relevant medical websites where reviews are encouraged
share great reviews on your website (having asked the patient’s permission)
set up a monthly or quarterly programme of feedback requests from patients
decide on the best way to collect ad hoc patient feedback from team members
put in place a detailed complaints process
communicate your complaints process openly with your patients
respond to complaints and online negative reviews promptly and professionally
collate all your feedback regularly from all sources, to inform your improvement plan
London millennials are more ready than ever for insured private healthcare. So has your marketing strategy caught up? Jane Braithwaite reports.
Key to the success of any business owner, including private healthcare practitioners, is to understand their clients/patients so that the marketing and delivery of services can be tailored to meet their exact needs.
It is imperative to understand how patients’ views are changing over time, particularly with the progressing use of technology and ways this is applied.
Understanding the characteristics of different age groups is also vital, particularity when considering technology.
Those marketing and communication methods that were successful five years ago are probably not ideal today and who knows what our patients will expect in five years’ time.
One effective way to keep abreast of changes is to consider the results of patient surveys. They give us some valuable insights into the minds of our patients and we can learn a great deal on the changes we should be making now to ensure continued long-term success.
Top Doctors, the global company connecting patients with healthcare specialists, recently commissioned a survey to better understand the beliefs and attitudes of Londoners towards healthcare.
Residents from all 33 London boroughs were questioned in September 2017. Being one of the most diverse places to live in the UK, it is safe to say this survey is likely to have questioned people from many different backgrounds.
The results make for interesting reading – particularly, the differences in opinion between the different age groups questioned. The survey found 41% of 18- to 34-year-olds (or millennials) have private health insurance, compared to just 20% of Londoners over the age of 55.
These figures represent a change in terms of the typical user of private health, as the post-war ‘baby boomers’ would historically have been the generation most likely to have private health coverage.
The figures are also indicative of a difference in market use between our capital city and the rest of the country. Recent research released by health and social care market intelligence provider LaingBuisson found that, overall, just 10.6% of the UK population have private medical cover.
So, what do these results say about the attitude of millennials living in the capital to healthcare and, by extension, the private healthcare industry? And how can London’s private practices ensure that they are engaging with this age group?
Millennial attitudes to healthcare
Multiracial business people working together connected with technological devices like tablet and notebook – teamwork, business, working concept
The Top Doctor survey results show a clear change in the behaviours of millennials and baby boomers, but what is behind this difference in attitude?
Let’s first consider attitudes to the NHS. The 2013 King’s Fund report Time To Think Differently showed millennials do not consider collective welfare as important an issue as older generations, and also found ‘marked differences’ in NHS satisfaction rates between those over and under 65.
With this being the case, it could be said millennials might be supportive of individuals contributing financially to healthcare rather than it being solely the responsibility of the state.
The King’s Fund research put forward the idea that the generations following the baby boomers will not benefit from the same levels of financial security as those who came before them and, as a result, may be more focused on their own needs than those of others.
Could this be a reason why there appears to be an increase in private healthcare coverage in younger age groups?
The idea that millennials are stepping away from the NHS is further supported by another survey carried out in 2017 by DocTap.
This survey found that same-day appointment services offered by private practitioners were popular with the millennial age group and that many would prefer to pay for such services than wait for an NHS consultation.
Additional benefits, according to those surveyed, include consistency of care – that is to say, being able to see the same doctor at every appointment – longer appointment times and a sense of being able to take their time with their clinician.
The survey by the private online GP service also found that younger generations are much less committed to the notion of the NHS being the sole healthcare provider in comparison to older generations.
Millennial use of private healthcare insurance
Despite the evidence seeming to point to the idea that millennials favour private healthcare over the NHS and the fact that they are more likely to have a private healthcare plan, only half of this age group use their insurance to make a claim. Why is this?
You could say that there is simply less need for younger generations to access healthcare as much as older generations. People of this age group will, of course, be healthier and less prone to chronic conditions that occur with age.
Those who do have conditions that require regular specialist care may well find themselves in the position where their insurance policy will not cover any pre-existing conditions and, as a result, it is more financially viable for them to receive their treatment on the NHS.
Some younger patients may simply be minded to avoid using their healthcare policy because it does not provide extensive coverage. For example, some workplace private healthcare policies do not cover all aspects of care. The policy may only cover outpatient tests or there may be a financial limit on the amount a patient can claim back.
Furthermore, an opinion from the US is that millennials are more cost-conscious.
This age group is more likely to consider the cost of treatments before receiving them and when taking into account that a workplace may have a limit or an excess to pay, there may well be added costs associated with private care that millennials are not prepared to commit to.
How can private practices engage with this group?
The Top Doctors survey found that in London just 50% of the 18 to 34 age group have used their private healthcare insurance. This is high when compared to the over-55s, where just 35% have not used it.
There is, of course, no way to convince people to attend consultations and receive treatment if there is no need for it, but for those who do need to access expert healthcare in the private sector, it would be sensible to ensure your business is reaching this age group, who are – in London – more likely than any other group to have private medical insurance.
How to engage with millennials
➲ Recognise why private healthcare is popular in this age group and do what you can to tailor your service to their needs. If it is longer consultations that are popular, look at amending appointment times. If it is same-day appointments that prove popular, think about how and if this could work for your business.
➲ Liaise with your target audience and market your practice based on your findings. If you have existing patients in this age group, reach out to them to request feedback and ascertain what is important in terms of what they expect from the patient experience.
➲ Use appropriate platforms to market your business. Use social media, gaming and apps to reach this generation.
➲ Be authentic. Use testimonials and appealing stories of people’s healthcare journeys to help people to engage with your practice brand and better understand your values.
➲ Use content that is high-quality and shareable on social media – this will be more effective in terms of reaching out to this group than more traditional advertising methods.
➲ Think about how you can use technology to communicate with these patients. Communications that are tailored to the individual and accessible through smartphones might be attractive to this age group, but practices should be mindful of concerns about security and privacy.
➲ Millennials are highly likely to research their symptoms online before visiting a doctor. Private practices should recognise this behaviour and may want to provide health information on their websites as a way of engaging with this group.
➲ Millennials look for companies that reflect their personal values when choosing products. Think about what kind of impact you want your practice to make on society, and make sure this message is incorporated into your marketing.
Doctors are under increasing scrutiny when it comes to reporting serious incidents and data-sharing in private practice. Jane Braithwaite presents a timely analysis and gives some useful tips.
A recent BBC Panorama TV documentary entitled ‘How safe is your operation?’ uncovered serious concerns about the sharing of data and incident reporting in the private sector.
With cases such as that of Ian Paterson – the surgeon who wounded patients and carried out unnecessary surgical procedures – making headline news, patients may be rightly concerned that the safety policies and procedures used in private healthcare are not up to scratch.
So, what can private practices do to ensure their services are safe and patient safety is taken seriously, and what tools are available to support doctors in data-sharing?
Why is data important?
First, let’s consider why this information is so important.
As with any industry, analysis of business data will allow companies to see where they are doing well and can help to identify areas that need improvement.
It’s a great way to monitor how the business is running and to pinpoint areas where process changes are required. In healthcare, without recording and analysing clinical data, it is incredibly difficult for organisations to have any kind of handle on trends relating to symptoms, public health, procedure safety… the list goes on.
But why should this be particularly important? The reason is patient safety. Without measuring clinical outcomes, organisations – either in the NHS or the private sector – cannot ensure they are providing the best possible patient care.
Why are the NHS and private sectors different?
According to the Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN), which was established by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) following the 2014 investigation into the private healthcare market, the private healthcare industry has been largely excluded from national healthcare policy for some time.
As a result, the industry is not included in NHS information systems, meaning data is not shared between providers, and treatment information is not reported consistently to national databases.
What data is required?
Datacase singleThe private healthcare information that needs to be shared to supplement the NHS datasets relates to clinical audits, cancer surgery outcomes and figures relating to cosmetic surgery, for example.
Sharing this information will allow for complete oversight of patient outcomes. Policies and strategies in both sectors can then be shaped based on accurate and robust datasets, but basing policies on incomplete data will have a negative impact on patient safety.
It is therefore in the best interests of the NHS, the private sector and, of course, the patients to share this information to increase knowledge and identify any areas that need improvement.
This, of course, means that serious incidents need to be properly documented and reported, as well as information on successful treatments.
However, having a thorough risk assessment policy that includes information on how incidents are reported can only be a good thing for private practices; it will increase patients’ confidence in the fact that, if an incident does occur, it will be dealt with efficiently by the practice.
What can private practices do?
The key issue here is for the different sectors to work together for the good of the patients; data standards need to be brought into alignment. But who is spearheading this and how can private practices get involved?
As mentioned above, PHIN was established in the wake of the CMA’s 2014 investigation and now provides information on private healthcare to the public.
All hospitals providing private treatment are required to publish information on service quality –for example, infection rates, mortality rates and admission figures.
Several NHS trusts have been contacted by the CMA after making insufficient progress in achieving this goal. This is more than a year on from the CMA announcing that private healthcare providers must submit information on their services, allowing patients to have access to information they need to make an information choice about their care.
As well as publishing information on private hospitals, PHIN will also soon be making information available on individual consultants. A recently implemented new online portal allows clinicians to review their performance data ahead of the publishing of the data in 2018.
This gives consultants the chance to review their information to identify any trends or missing data and the portal also features a members’ manual that answers frequently-asked questions and contains more information on the process.
Consultants therefore need to recognise that the landscape in this area is changing and, in future, it appears that data-sharing between the private sector and the NHS will become more regulated.
Practices will need to review their internal policies relating to data – such as data protection, data sharing – and to risk assessment and reporting, and make sure that the relevant stakeholders are involved in their policies.
Moving forward – clarity and consistency
Lawyers and national medical organisations alike are calling for greater consistency here; private hospitals should be subject to the same regulations as the NHS, as so many patients use both services.
A single standard for data procedures and reporting, regardless of how the care is funded, is obviously needed – especially when taking into account the fact that 95% of patients who have planned surgery privately are also NHS patients for other aspects of their healthcare.
There is a clear need to unify standards across sectors. Setting consistent information standards will improve many areas of healthcare, including patient choice, access to information, interoperability between systems, quality of service and integrated care.
There is really no reason to say ‘no’ to joining forces and making patient care the best it can be.