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Accessibility to private healthcare has never really been as good as it should be

The self pay patient journey can be fraught with misadventure but as independent consultant Richard Gregory explains, focusing on the basics can help smooth the pathway


Accessibility to private healthcare has never really been as good as it should be.

In 2017, I conducted extensive research over a two-month period into accessibility and quality service in healthcare. This revealed an extremely poor telephone answer rate of only 66% among the major hospital providers.

Consumers expect a much faster response in getting through to someone who can help them directly. Quite rightly, the major operators have since been investing in frontline call handling teams as technology enablers improve – telephony and CRM; direct diary access grows due to better patient administration systems and consultant relations; and self-pay
propositions standardise across the operators’ estates. This move towards the centralisation of first-line fulfilment removes local pressures on resource and systems, reduces cost and drastically improves response rates, in theory. It all makes sense but as usual it is never quite as simple as that.

What is the perfect scenario, the optimum customer journey?

A customer calls requiring information on treatment at their local private hospital; they are responded to immediately by someone with local knowledge at their finger-tips. An inclusive price is confirmed; appropriate consultants and their initial consultation fees introduced based upon suitable availability; an appointment is booked directly and email confirmation sent to the customer.

Customer contact is then picked up locally at the hospital to onboard the customer and introduce them to the local private patient team. This, in summary, is a perfect experience and must be the goal. How do you get there?

At Nuffield Health, I was struck by one of our fitness and wellbeing training schemes called Brilliant Basics. It was a very effective way of training people to get the basics right because, once you do, the impact on customer service is fantastic. It is not rocket science. It just needs focus on the key basics. This philosophy warns against being tempted to concentrate on added value elements if the underlying customer journey is not being delivered to the expectations of the customer. The same approach should be applied to how the contact centre interacts with all individual hospitals.


Customers should not have to answer the same questions twice, they should not become human ping pong balls being passed from one person to another, and they should certainly not be subjected to any unnecessary steps in the process established purely for internal purposes. This can easily happen and will of course defeat the initial object. The interactions need to be completely seamless for the full customer benefit to be achieved. The brilliant basics should be written into a mutual Service Level Agreement between contact centre and hospitals. What are the brilliant basics?

Firstly, clearly set out in detail the role of each party in the customer journey. This is best defined by bringing all colleagues together and walking the ideal journey together and establishing key processes, key deliverables, critical path moments where misunderstandings may occur, identifying each party’s limitations, and critically, identifying the stages at which a customer is passed on to the hospital or passed back to the contact centre.

Secondly, together, key performance indicators should be agreed. These KPI’s must of course be measurable either quantitatively or qualitatively and care must be taken to ensure they are not inadvertently incompatible or that they do not engender the wrong behaviour.

Thirdly, establish fact and information files for each hospital. Identify what information must be known by the contact centre and ensure it is easily accessible online and that an update process is put in place to avoid information becoming out of date.

Richard Gregory, independent consultant

Fourthly, make sure everyone is known to everyone else. It will be especially important for the contact centre to have names, contact numbers and working hours for each hospital’s self-pay team members and that this is also kept up to date

Fifthly, set up monthly calls between the hospitals and the relevant individuals at the contact centre with a set agenda to talk through any issues, put right any weaknesses in process and present KPI output.

Lastly, encourage face-to-face contact on a regular basis and when anyone new starts. This will help break down barriers, which can be created when teamwork is so remote, and establish good working relationships through a strong understanding of each other’s roles and challenges.

The contact centre approach, done well, will substantially improve customer service and lead to self-pay growth. Recognise, however, that it can very easily have an adverse influence on customer service if the brilliant basics are not identified, agreed and constantly worked on.