Covid-19 has increased demand for private surgery, whether for those with private medical insurance waiting for planned treatment, or for those wishing to self-fund. But a barrier to growth is a possible reluctance by consumers to enter a world that for some, used to state-funded care, has never been a part of their personal healthcare landscape. This is something providers need to be aware of, suggests Liz Heath, author of LaingBuisson’s upcoming report on the UK self-pay market.
We know from UK research conducted by YouGov for Private Healthcare Information Network (PHIN) that more people are considering private healthcare and that in the key self-pay demographic, the over 55s, this is much more pronounced.
But through the same research, costs of treatment were cited as a concern, as were provider reputation, outcomes and, for some, suspicions about the private sector. However, common to this research and LaingBuisson’s own survey, the main factors influencing growth in demand for self-pay in the UK are access and waiting times for NHS diagnostics and treatment.
It is also interesting to note that in LaingBuisson’s research and that for PHIN, the way consumers are searching for information on private healthcare does appear to have permanently shifted. As well as seeking information from peer groups and medical professionals, consumers are much more inclined to seek out online reviews, use Google or other review providers as well as the UK independent regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC). This presents a challenge for providers in ensuring their messages about safe care and affordability are visible and that they can evidence the quality of care and outcomes in a way that supports consumer decision making.
Analysis of Google Trends shows that searches for information about private healthcare were reasonably consistent during the past two years, and that towards the latter part of 2021, searches related to the costs of private treatment rose as well as those specifically related to private healthcare.
We can’t ignore the affordability of self-pay treatment, either. Finance options have been offered by providers for many years, but the prominence of affordability and the ability to spread the cost is much greater now. That is a key message for consumers and potential self-pay patients that the sector shouldn’t be shy about, particularly when reaching out to a slightly younger demographic.
It feels as though the whole sector is keen to embrace these new potential self-pay patients but making the right connections and earning their trust is going to be key to creating a thriving and sustainable self-pay market. There are signs that this is beginning to happen, but undoubtedly more needs to be done to engage about the right things at the right time to promote the benefits not just of self-pay but of the whole private acute sector.
The full length version of Liz Heath’s article was published earlier this month in HealthcareMarkets UK.