How to tap into self-pay

With the rising number of self-pay patients in many specialties, it is time for many specialists to tap in to this growing market using their website, says Garry Chapman

Many consultants think of private practice as only the insurance market. While this is true for the major portion of the sector, what many specialists may not realise is that the self-pay segment has been increasing.
And that trend looks set to continue.
Our analysis on the invoices we raised in 2012 showed that self pay accounted for over 26% of the total amount invoiced.
This sector includes UK and overseas patients and the figure quoted above is an average across all our consultants.
Self-pay levels can fluctuate significantly, depending on the specialty, type of practice and the location of the practice. In most cases, the self-pay market was either the largest or second largest payment company that the practice dealt with.
Many factors are responsible for the market’s stability and growth.
The main ones are:

Ninety per cent of the population do not have private medical insurance.
However, with the NHS suffering as a result of the confusion surrounding the changes in the system, coupled with the bad press on the quality of care patients receive on the ward (see feature on the Francis Report on p36), an increasing number of people are seeking an alternative route to medical care.

Insurance policies
More than two million people have fallen out of the private healthcare market over the past four years. This is predominately due to the recession, but there is also an element of people refusing to pay the ever-increasing cost of private healthcare premiums, preferring instead to put the money aside in case they need medical treatment, acting as a self-pay patient instead.

Overseas patients
If your practice is based in central London, overseas clients could be important. This has always been an area in which practices see large numbers of patients coming from outside of the UK seeking private healthcare.

Self-pay patients
There has always been a percentage of people who have sought private healthcare without having an insurance policy, and even in the current economic climate this market still appears to be buoyant.
As the patient may not be referred by a GP, they will typically look online for a consultant.
Therefore, the single biggest thing any practice can do to be certain that they are in prime position to take advantage of this growing sector is to ensure that they have a strong online presence.
In order to do this, the consultant needs to make sure that they have a web site that covers the following main points:

This should be an overview of the consultant as a person, preferably with a picture published. It should also include their key experience, where they studied and a list of all the qualifications obtained and any material published.
This is to reassure the patient that they are dealing with someone who is knowledgeable and experienced. This section should also include when and where the consultant’s clinics are and, where appropriate, where they perform operations.

This should be the main focus, and include any qualifications the consultant has obtained, also covering any subspecialty.
In this section, there should be a simple explanation in plain English – do not over-elaborate on medical terminology – explaining exactly what the specialty is, what it covers and how it is done.
If possible, this should include pictures and video with a step-bystep guide in order to connect with the patient and make them feel that you understand their problem.

Any testimonials received should be published on a separate page with the individual’s permission.
This is vital in giving other potential patients a feeling of comfort that other people in their position have been helped by the consultant. If the consultant has had any press publications, then these should also be published here as well.

It is a good idea to provide a list of frequently-asked questions and answers on the main areas that the consultant treats.
This allows the patient to obtain information in their own time and at their own pace without taking up the valuable time of the practice staff.

Contact information
It is recommended that this process be as simple as possible, with communication being accessible by a variety of means.
This should include phone numbers, email address, postal address, as well as a web-based contact form which the patient can fill in, which would automatically get emailed to the practice staff so that they can respond accordingly.

This should be a list of all locations that the consultant works from, with contact details of each location, including directions to each location using each mode of public transport as well as a detailed map.

Terms and conditions
This should include all the relevant terms and conditions of the practice as well as a price list of all the consultation fees and, where possible, a price list of the common procedures that are carried out.
If this is not possible, then state that, after an initial consultation, a quotation of any treatment required will be provided before any treatment commences.
When compiling all this information, the consultant should engage with a web developer who will not only be able to assist in designing the website but in making sure that the vital area of ‘key words’ are stored so that when the patient is searching online, the consultant’s website is one of those that are found first in any search.

Garry Chapman is managing director
at Medical Billing & Collection

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