By Elizabeth Ziemba, President, Medical Tourism Training, Inc.
Private hospitals and health care providers exist as competitors to the national health care. How can private sector entities successfully compete against this “free” option?
It’s Not Free
First, people sometimes forget that the “free” option – national health care – is not free at all. It is paid for by individuals’ taxes, employers’ contributions, insurance, and government support. Because people pay into the system, there is a sense of pride and entitlement to using the national system which, in most places in the world, delivers a pretty good service.
Consumers view it as “free” because they do not have to pay additional sums when receiving services. They are invested both emotionally and financially in the system. As such, when competing with the free option, the psychological view of the prospective clients should be remembered and acknowledged. Consumers and the national system deserve to be treated with respect.
The Private Sector’s Competitive Edge
Despite the recognition of the benefits that the national health care system deserves, many opportunities exist for the private sector to directly compete and succeed. Shortcomings in the national system, increasing consumer demands, and other factors put pressure on the public system creating opportunities for the private sector to successfully vie for patients.
How can the private sector position itself to capitalize on these opportunities? The answer – focus on quality, access, and service.
One competitive factor where the private sector may excel is quality of healthcare. Health care outcomes and other measures of quality are available in many countries, regions, and cities. Assuming the numbers do prove the case that your organization is providing better quality of care, then use that information to tout your excellence. Demonstrate it with photos of satisfied customers and stories with happy endings rather than relying solely on statistics. Illustrating excellence of care with improved quality of life for patients is a clear competitive edge.
Access is an increasingly important factor to potential patients. Longer waiting times are a reality in many health care systems as populations age and more services are utilized. Or perhaps systems are understaffed and cannot cope with current demand. Baby boomers are not going to wait quietly as they live in pain, decreased mobility, or go untreated for various illnesses such as cancer. They will look for other options as will members of other market segments including the upper class, growing middle class, international patients, or those outside the system. If you can provide quick, quality service, then you can create marketing messages that will appeal to many prospective patients.
People expect more from health care providers both in the public and private sectors. While the public sector, in general, has been slow to respond to the demand for an improved patient experience, the private sector has embraced customer service as an area where it can excel and compete locally and internationally. While quality of care remains at the core of delivering health services, prospective patients and their accompanying guests are looking for compassionate treatment and a variety of ancillary services. Being able to meet and exceed the expectations of customers based on factors such as cultural sensitivity, food and dietary requirements, assistance with transportation, and a myriad of other services can provide a competitive basis for your organization.
Carve Out A Niche
Of course there is no need for private sector entities to compete directly with the national health system. The option does exist to provide services that are not covered within the health care system or by most insurance plans such as cosmetic surgery, dental care, IVF treatments, mental health services, alternative medicine, and other unmet health and wellness needs. Individuals may be willing to pay out of pocket for these and other services not offered by the “free” option. Should you choose to pursue this option, your competitors will be other members of the private sector. You can compete with them by focusing on quality, access and customer service.
Collaboration is another option available to the private sector. For example, in the UK, private hospitals contract with the National Health System to care for patients according to NHS standards. This arrangement benefits both parties. The private sector acts like a safety valve for the public sector, taking some pressure off the system by adding capacity without adding to its staff. The private sector utilizes its excess capacity and is able to generate a steady revenue stream.
Whether competing directly, not competing at all, or collaborating, the private sector does have various options available to carve out markets for itself based on quality, access and customer service.
Medical Tourism Training is ready to work together with you to grow your patient numbers with our assessment, training and consulting services. Our Redi4Patients evaluation tool provides a comprehensive assessment of your marketing tools as well as the entire patient experience from initial contact to post-discharge follow up. Does your staff need customer service training? We offer a full array of training services from off-the-shelf affordable online courses to custom-designed, client branded materials and everything in between.
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