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Make it easier to go private!

By Robin Stride

The whole private health sector is being urged to commit to breaking down barriers that prevent patients from easily accessing consultants and treatment information.

Fiona Booth quoteFiona Booth, chief executive of the Association of Independent Healthcare Organisations (AIHO), revealed patients’ frustration at a ‘double-whammy’ facing them when they try to access private care.

New research from the organisation found the two least satisfactory aspects of a patient’s experience when receiving private healthcare was the information given to enable their choice and the referral process.

She said: ‘We asked patients what sources of information they used to decide about receiving treatment at an independent hospital and how they rated this information out of ten.

‘Most people said their GP’s recommendation guided their choice of provider. And, sadly, they only rated the quality of this information two out of ten. Some patients found their GP could not offer them comprehensive information.

‘This should concern all of us, as GPs are the first point of call and tend to be the main channel for patients seeking treatment.’

Ms Booth said AIHO’s research also uncovered mixed reviews on the information received from insurers, with patients complaining the information did not provide treatment costs or clear explanations on what their package covered.

Patients criticised the referral process both from the NHS and insurers.

Warning to private doctors

She warned the audience at the Private Healthcare Summit 2017 it would be ‘foolish’ if independent hospitals ignored these findings: ‘As a sector, we need to step back and ask ourselves ‘how good are we at helping patients choose?’ and ‘how are we helping patients make educated and well-informed decisions?’

‘It’s not enough that we provide choice just by simply offering our services. Instead we must become active partners in assisting the patient decision-making process.

Enabling patient choice is critical for every one of us, and as a sector we need to work together to improve these standards.’

AIHO wants the sector to support its new patient choice/GP Education campaign by exploring what improvements each organisation could make to give better information and help customers’ choose.

Ms Booth urged everyone to look for new ways to improve patient experience and also work collaboratively with insurers to improve patient choice and information.
AIHO’s research, covering NHS-funded, PMI and self-pay patients, found 92% would recommend the service to a family member or friend. NHS-funded patients were the most satisfied with their experience, followed by self-pay and PMI patients.

The most common reason for people wanting private consultant treatment was to be treated more quickly, followed by the quality of treatment.

Ms Booth said these were the same two reasons why those who had not yet used independent hospitals said they were open to the prospect in the future.

‘This means, as a sector, we are rightly characterised by these two outstanding qualities. But the challenge and responsibility for all of us is to ensure these standards are maintained and also promoted.’

She quoted a King’s Fund study showing that 75% of respondents said choice was either ‘very important’ or ‘important’ to them. Patients expected more choice, more responsive services and a positive customer experience.

Ms Booth said the sector should note NHS figures last month showing the number of people in England being forced to wait more than six months for an operation had almost trebled in the past four years and those waiting over a year had almost doubled.