The Rise Of The Empowered Self-Pay Patient
Universal healthcare in the UK is a relatively new phenomenon. Up until the First World War, healthcare was largely a privatised affair; if you wanted to see a doctor, you paid for the service. Those unable to afford healthcare depended on the compassion of the practitioner or, as was often the case, used traditional remedies or were at the mercy of quacks. Effective reliable medical care was entirely dependent on how much money you had.
As our health system developed into a National Health Service, free at the point of use, the patient’s chances of having effective treatment became the norm. People lived longer, reproduced more, the population grew and the health service came under pressure – a victim of its own glorious success. But, I must stress, this is not an article about the complex socioeconomic issues affecting the health service. Even prior to COVID, the UK private ‘self pay’ health market was growing fast, at about 5% per year, and it’s clear this trend will continue into the long-term future, however the current crisis shakes out.
The rise of the self pay patient
While there has always been private medicine available to those that wanted to pay, the widespread increase in self pay as an alternative to insurance or to expedite treatment, means that once again physicians find themselves in a private market for patients.
And this brings us to the crucial point: when consumers have choice, then everything changes.
Your patients no longer automatically come to you via the ‘conveyor belt’ of the NHS and they know that, by dint of having a cheque book in their pocket, they are a patient AND they are also a customer. In a consumer society, we’re brought up from an early age to fundamentally understand the concept of power in the buyer-seller relationship. Phrases like the ‘customer is always right’ are embedded in our culture and we must never forget that a patient can go elsewhere.
A patient paying for their own treatment and researching where to go are likely to Google who can help.
The first page of Google contains approximately 17 listings, all of which may be from practices, clinics or hospitals offering a similar treatment or service. If you were to do the same exercise in your area, you’re more than likely to know them all.
What are the reasons patients go to other doctors?
The reasons why a patient might not choose you and decide to go to another practitioner are numerous.
– They may not know you exist
– They may not like you (sorry to be harsh, but it does happen)
– You might not have any reviews or testimonials for reassurance
– They might be price sensitive and need credit which determines the provider
– Their friend might have recommended someone else
– Your phone may not be answered when they call you
– Their email enquiry to you might not be answered before another clinic responds
– They can’t get to see you at a time that fits your schedule
Some of these ‘barriers’ are more challenging to overcome than others. If a patient can’t afford your treatment and you don’t have a finance partner, then there’s not a lot you can do.
Some are slightly more tricky, such as where you rank on Google, your review profile or a patient not liking you (sorry, again) and these will take time to iron out. However, some of these are very much within your control and how you run your practice.
How do I apply the 30/7 Rule?
When new clients come on board with us, we first implement our signature 30/7 Rule. This strategy has been gleaned from nearly 13 years of working with successful clinics and practices. It’s also come from studying sector leaders who dominate the UK market.
Put simply this is an internal process which you adopt when dealing with clients. Your team will sign up to this new code. Anyone coming across a patient will understand the importance of it.
The 30 Rule
All enquiries must be answered within 30 minutes. Ideally, phone calls should be answered straightaway and answer phones should be avoided. Emails and contact form enquiries should be responded to as soon as they come in.
WHY: Being keen isn’t being desperate. Quickly responding to enquiries is not only professional but also signals that your client is important to you. Just remember that a prospective client quite likes to be wooed.
The 7 Rule
You should see your patients for a consult within 7 days. Never underestimate the courage it takes to contact a medical professional. Meeting people for the first time is stressful without having to have a physical examination or discuss a medical procedure. Run some clinics on a Saturday morning or before or after hours to fit around your patients’ schedule.
If you’re struggling to align diaries then suggest an initial, pre-consult, Zoom conversation so that the patient gets to know you.
Remember also that your competitors are doing this (and if you are curious as to how your competitors deal with patients, get a friend to ring up and enquire – everyone does this!).
WHY: The patient has taken the courage to make an appointment. It is therefore important that you see them whilst they are motivated.
I do know that being commercial doesn’t always sit comfortably. If you’re a medical professional it’s likely that you are doing your work because it’s a vocation and not something you went into to make as much money as possible. But think of it in a slightly different way. How do you like to be treated in your everyday interactions? Do you remember a service you have used recently that was prompt, efficient, and filled you with confidence in their work? The organisations and specialists that do best are those that genuinely put the client at the centre of everything. It’s something that all business should do.
Gavin Griffiths is the CEO of Clinic Connect, a specialist phone answering and secretarial service run by a team with 13 years’ experience in helping clinics thrive and grow.