Becoming the private consultant of choice when a patient is making decisions about “going private” is not easy these days. Life for the private practitioner (and for private healthcare providers in general) is getting harder. Making it to number one in private practice - becoming a private consultant of choice in your specialty, sub-specialty or a specific area of expertise is no longer straightforward.
There are fewer patients to go round. The knock on effect of the recession has been to significantly reduce the sign up rate for private medical insurance. According to Stephen Collier, the chief executive of BMI, the proportion of Britons covered by private health insurers such as Bupa, Pru Health and Axa PPP has fallen from 13% of the population per cent to 10.2% since the mid-1990s. That’s around 1.5 million people who can no longer pay for private treatment through their private health insurance.
In 2002, there were 27,000 consultants in the NHS. Today, there are over 40,000. And many of these NHS consultants are looking for private patients to boost their income. There are more consultants in private practice today than ever before. At the same time, private consultants in areas such as Central London are feeling the impact of new competitors targeting their traditional international patient markets in the Middle East. Countries such as Turkey have invested large sums in developing their hospital infrastructure and funding medical tourism initiatives to target patients in the Arab states.
The smart patient
Gone are the days when the patient bowed to the superior knowledge of the referring GP. Nowadays, patients want a say in which consultant they are referred to. Patients compare consultants, clinics and hospitals. They make multiple comparisons. They research online to find out about to whom they are being referred or to make a choice between consultants.
Let’s start with a practice web site...
For many private consultants, the development of a practice web site is the first step. Of course, that’s important... because that’s where patients will go to find out about who you are and what you do. But the art and science of web site development for private practitioners are in a fairly unsophisticated stage. Most private practice web sites do the basics. But few do a great job.
Take a look at a few consultant web sites, and ask yourself:
- How well does the site project the reputation and authority of the consultant?
- Does the site say to the patient... “this guy is really good at what he does”, or “this guy is really great with patients”?
- Does the site really communicate why a patient should choose this consultant?
- Was the site content written by a professional copywriter who really understands how to talk to patients... or was it written by a web designer.... or by the consultant who may pitch the language at a medical audience?
Give your site a make-over
Here are some questions that will help you to think about what your site should be doing to give you the competitive edge when a patient (or a referring GP) is making a judgement (and possibly, a choice) when looking at your web site and those of “competing” consultants:
- What key message/s does the home page convey about you and your practice? Does it just communicate “John Smith is an orthopaedic surgeon” or does it communicate “John Smith is an outstanding orthopaedic surgeon, one of the best around for knee replacement and with a great patient manner”
- What key messages do you want to convey? And what is the most important? Have you considered what the “John Smith brand” is all about?
- Does your web site convey authority?
- Does it talk about satisfied patients? Does it provide patient stories and testimonials?
- What evidence is there that you are an authority in your chosen field?
- Has the media sought your opinion on anything?
- What qualifications and accreditations do you hold?
- What information about relevant conditions and treatments do you provide for your patients?
- Are you using video content so that the patient can see the “real” you?
- Does the site clearly communicate your areas of expertise? Is it focused on your target conditions and procedures?
- Does the web site convey confidence in the consultant’s experience?
- Does it provide the number of procedures carried out?
- Does it publish success rates?
Calls to action
- Is it obvious how the site visitor can contact your private practice?
- Or make an appointment?
- Or request an opinion?
- How simple is the enquiry form?
- Are appointment times and locations clearly indicated?
- What is provided for free in return for providing contact details?
- Does the site provide pricing information for consultations?
Patient focus and usability
- Is the site easy to navigate?
- Is valuable content exposed or hidden away?
- Is the content written in patient friendly language?
- Is there a search function?
- Are the colours of visited and unvisited links differentiated?
- Are their signposts for new and existing patients?
- Are their clear signposts for the top three reasons that people come to the site?
Making it to number one in private practice starts with making sure that your web site stands out from the crowd. Investment in a professionally designed and written web site is essential. Don’t cut costs on the shop window to your practice!
In Part 2... Making it to number one on Google
Author profile: Keith Pollard
Keith Pollard spent ten years in marketing and operational roles in the private healthcare sector before setting up Acumen Solutions, an internet development company in the mid-1990s, specialising in the healthcare market.
Private Healthcare UK was one of several internet ventures which were created at that time.
In 2003, Keith formed Intuition Communication as a web publishing company and embarked on a major investment in the redevelopment and expansion of Private Healthcare UK.
The Intuition portfolio has grown impressively since then, and Intuition has become a leader in medical tourism with the development of Treatment Abroad. Keith writes a health and medical tourism blog.