By Robin Stride
Independent practitioners are losing out due to system failures in turning high levels of private healthcare inquiries into bookings.
Although a record year for many in private practice is predicted in 2024, the sector is likely to treat fewer than it could if the patients’ journey was made much easier.
Improving the efficiency of the journey from a phone call to treatment is seen as vital by marketing advisers.
Independent Practitioner Today columnist Sue O’Gorman, of Medici Healthcare Consultancy, advised that the increasing NHS waiting times across many spec-ialties and rising self-pay inquiries meant there had never been a better time for doctors to take a long hard look at their practice.
She advised they should ensure they have a watertight process to capture patients at the point of inquiry.
‘Many patients will be considering the cost, even if insured, and will want to understand up front if the specialist accepts their insurer and if there are any out-of-pocket expenses such as shortfalls.
‘Coupled with easy access to online information, patients increasingly will conduct their own research to identify the specialist with the best reputation, success rates and patient reviews.
‘Patients will often shop around for their specialist for several reasons. For example, they will seek out the most experienced professional for their specific condition, so ensuring your website accurately reflects your clinical expertise will determine the patient’s choice.’
Improve the patient journey
The problem of turning inquiries into bookings was highlighted at this year’s LaingBuisson Private Acute Healthcare Conference which was told that as many as half of inquirers do not become customers.
But the 200-plus audience heard there was a strong potential for providers to improve the various steps across the patient journey to make it quicker and nicer.
Market analyst LaingBuisson’s latest annual Private Acute Healthcare UK Market Report values the total UK market at £11.4bn in 2022.
This covers both private hospitals and private clinics/private practising doctors for the first time.
Private hospitals remain the largest section of the market at £6.05bn. But private clinics/doctors account for a significant proportion of revenue at £4.8bn.
Remaining market value comes from NHS private patient units (PPUs) with estimated total revenues of £578m in 2022.
Growth in 2022 and 2023 was positive but decelerated from earlier post-pandemic highs, as the sector returned to a relative stability.
The report says: ‘Self-funder activity volumes appear to have reached a new plateau in the hospital sector – at around 71,000 reported activities per quarter across 2022-23, up from a steady 50,000 activities per quarter reported in 2019.
‘However, this is likely to mask considerable unreported activity in the clinic sector, where it is estimated that almost half of revenues are generated from self-funders’.
Report author Tim Read said the analysis suggested that at a time when people faced unprecedented challenges in accessing NHS services, the independent private acute healthcare sector had bounced back from the severe impacts caused by the pandemic.
‘The current strength of the independent market can be seen as income from self-funders and private health insurance has reached record highs, while revenue from NHS-funded care continues to be higher than at any point prior to the pandemic.
‘The surge in the number of people willing to pay for their own care highlights the challenge that many are facing when trying to access services through the NHS.
‘Although they will be seen eventually, it seems clear that people who may not be considered priority cases on the NHS are increasingly considering alternative options in order to have the certainty of a diagnosis or to receive a major quality-of-life improvement, such as by having cataract surgery or undergoing a knee or hip operation.’
He added that with Conservative and Labour parties indicating they saw a role for the independent sector in helping resolve the NHS elective backlog, and as providers played an ever more integrated role in delivery, it was important they fully consider how they could support continuity of care and system interoperability.