Lengthening waiting lists for NHS treatment are a ‘push factor’ which should prompt more people to re-evaluate private healthcare, but it is also important to consider the ‘pull factors’ that will lead them to your practice.
Healthcode’s Kingsley Hollis shows how technology can help you offer a high-quality level of service that will exceed the expectations of new patients and attract word-of-mouth recommendations.
The pandemic did much to open our eyes to the significant contribution made by the private healthcare sector to meeting people’s care and treatment needs.
Independent practitioners and hospitals were quick to join the national response to the pandemic and more than three million patients had their NHS procedure carried out, at cost, by private providers in England under landmark national arrangements.
This support will continue as the NHS tries to get back on its feet, but it will take time to address the backlog. With a record number of patients now on the waiting list for NHS hospital treatment, it is probable that people who might not have previously contemplated going private will think again.
LaingBuisson’s recent report into the UK Self-Pay market found evidence of heightened interest in private treatment across the country.
At the same time, the private sector cannot simply wait for NHS waiting lists to drive patients in its direction. As LaingBuisson put it: ‘The challenge will be converting this interest to business’, which means doctors need a compelling and attractive reason for patients to choose them and – more importantly – speak positively about their experience to friends and family.
This is where technology has a key role to play. We all know that the right technology enables practices to operate more efficiently and profitably, but it’s now time to look at how technology can also help you improve access, deliver a high-quality service and exceed expectations.
Listed below are five ways that Healthcode’s technology can make the difference to your patients’ experience of private healthcare:
1 Efficient appointment booking
Your patients should be able to expect a professional and responsive service, whichever way they choose to make an appointment. However, it can be challenging for practices to co-ordinate diaries where several specialists practise across multiple locations.
The appointment functionality within Healthcode’s ePractice system shows which practitioners are active on a specific day across all treatment sites, so when patients make an inquiry, your receptionist can instantly view the available slots and reserve a suitable appointment there and then, rather than having to check and call back.
If nothing is available at the patient’s preferred time, they can be added to a waiting list and there will be an automatic alert if the slot becomes free.
Once an appointment is made, the system can generate confirmation letters, emails or texts with all the information patients need.
And when a patient presents for their appointment, receptionists can change their status on the system to ‘arrived’ so that practitioners are aware they are waiting to be seen.
2 Choice and convenience
For every patient who contacts a practice directly, there are likely to be more who would prefer to have a choice of specialists and hospitals offering private healthcare and book a consultation on their computer or mobile device.
Until recently, online appointment booking on this scale has simply not been possible because there was no way to synchronise the mass of data – providers, services, practitioners and appointment slots – and the many different booking systems.
Healthcode’s online appointment booking service, which will be available later this year, is essentially the hidden engine room that can power the appointment booking process for the whole sector by enabling diverse service providers to connect and exchange information in real time.
Practitioners and other providers will be able to publish their services and synchronise availability through Healthcode’s solution, which makes this information available in real-time to booking websites. This will extend their reach to many more patients.
From a patient perspective, online appointment booking will undoubtedly increase the appeal of private healthcare by making it more accessible.
For the first time, it will be possible to use a single booking application to search multiple healthcare organisations, using different criteria and filters to find the service that meets patients’ needs and then make an appointment at a convenient time and location.
3 Reassurance about private medical insurance
While the self-pay market is growing, it remains true that most of your patients will have private medical cover, although not all will have their membership details to hand when they contact your practice.
Healthcode’s insurer membership look-up feature enables you to put patients’ minds at rest that they have valid insurance cover by matching their details against participating insurers’ databases.
This simple and secure online check is possible thanks to our interoperable technology which enables different organisations to connect seamlessly via our online platform.
This also eliminates the need for multiple phone calls and also ensures your practice has the correct details on its own system from the outset.
4 Ensuring continuity of care
Whether you are ordering diagnostic services, arranging for a patient to be admitted to hospital for surgery or discussing their case with others in a multidisciplinary team meeting, it is essential that you provide relevant information in a timely and secure way.
The GMC’s leadership and management guidance emphasises the importance of communication with colleagues and says doctors in senior roles ‘must provide necessary and timely information to those you manage so they can carry out their roles effectively’.
The same guidance also says: ‘You must make sure that records you are responsible for are made, stored, transferred and disposed of in line with the data protection law and other relevant legislation.’
Regular email is inherently insecure and should never be used to send identifiable patient information.
By contrast, Healthcode’s secure messaging and file sharing services (healthDrive) are encrypted, enabling you to share sensitive and confidential information with individuals or specifically created contact groups on our global directory of practitioners, private hospitals and private medical insurers (PMIs) without compromising patient privacy.
This enables you to co-ordinate patient treatment effectively and ensure continuity of care when patients transfer to other healthcare settings.
5 Efficient billing
While electronic billing for PMI-funded treatment is the norm thanks to Healthcode’s Clearing Service, the rise in self-funded healthcare means practices also need to consider how best to collect payment from patients.
Finance arrangements are common for some types of cosmetic treatment, but most patients will expect to be billed promptly and have a stress-free way to pay.
In partnership with the patientzone online payment platform, Healthcode offers a secure online patient e-billing and payment service for ePractice users to charge for self-funded care and PMI shortfalls.
Once signed-up with the patientzone service, practices can create bills in ePractice and send them through to patientzone. Patientzone then notifies the patients by email or text that they have received a bill which they can access and pay securely online.
Within 30 minutes, their payment is automatically reconciled – in ePractice plans with payment recording – and the practice also receives notification of payment by email or text.
Online electronic billing for patients through Healthcode and patientzone meets your data protection obligations – unlike insecure email – and is more efficient than sending a paper bill in the post.
It is a more cost-effective way to implement online patient billing and payment, as there is no need to arrange merchant accounts or pay credit card processing fees. Most importantly from a patient perspective, the process is seamless, secure and convenient and they have the reassurance of payment confirmation so they can focus on their recovery.
Private healthcare is likely to become a more realistic and appealing option for patients in the current climate, which gives everyone in the sector a golden opportunity to convert new business.
Patients may be seeking fast access to advanced diagnostic and medical care, but with the help of technology you can show them what else private healthcare has to offer.
Kingsley Hollis (right) is head of business development at Healthcode