Self-pay: thinking it through

According to LaingBuisson self-pay spending grew by 9% in 2015 to reach £0.9m. Medical publishers, Intuition Communication, went a bit further in predicting that this growth could be between 10-15% by 2018, based on their Private Healthcare UK Self-Pay Market Study (2015) which surveyed over 70 leaders in the sector.

So, the numbers stack up and this looks like an easy market to chase. Many of you reading this might already have launched a self-pay offering but aren’t exactly hitting the jackpot you thought possible.

Self-pay isn’t as straightforward as setting prices, creating a self-pay webpage with an enquiry form, telling your referrers about it and away you go. Deciding to invest in self-pay is a strategic decision. Getting into this space is likely to be the first time that you are directly reaching out to consumers of healthcare and you must know that this is what you are wanting to do, and for a good reason. It will be foreign territory. It is different from the B2B space with which you are more familiar. Self-pay requires a mindset shift towards B2C (or “C2B” as we like to refer to it).

Assuming you have now made the strategic decision to allocate resources to self-pay, there is some thinking to be done before simply launching a self-pay product(s).  Questions like, do we really understand what matters to our potential customers, do we know how to influence their choices, how do we make ourselves attractive, and what do we say to them should be on your team’s agenda.

These ‘Self-pay essentials’ will help you think it through:

  • Segment your markets: Take time to identify the specific audience segment(s) you want to approach; self-pay for one is not self-pay for all. You may end up with multiple groups but segmentation is essential in being able to target your resources, service and messaging to the right people.
  • Create messages appropriate to your chosen market segments: Craft messaging that is away from too much cold fact. Behavioural economics has shown that we don’t buy anything rationally. We buy things with our emotional, irrational brain and then justify these decisions with our rational brain. So, messages that foster an emotional connection with your target audience work best.
  • Speak to consumers: Get out and talk to some of your chosen target audience to really understand what matters to them. You will get masses of information but make sure that these insights are interpreted in the context of your organisational AND market insights. This is the tricky bit but well worth the effort since only some of the consumer insights will be relevant in helping you to define a differentiated and sustainable position for your self-pay product.
  • Consider your operational ability to deliver: Self-pay will challenge you operationally. Customer service enhancements will need to accompany a self-pay offering. Take enquiry handling as a simple example. Customers will be calling you directly, perhaps without a referral and without you having any prior information about them. They will undoubtedly have questions and specific concerns that will need careful handling so you might need to invest in specially trained, dedicated self-pay enquiry teams to focus on these customers’ needs in the right way.
  • Engage your clinical teams: Strange that this needs to be spelt out but if that happened consistently it wouldn’t need to be. Don’t just tell your clinicians about your new self-pay initiative, engage them in its development from the start. Appointing a clinical champion for self-pay is a good idea. This champion can not only mediate the financial discussions that need to be had with clinical teams but more importantly can help shape the clinical/shared decision making processes that will be required to be successful.
  • Measure what matters: You’re in the C2B game now and will need to measure what matters to your customers and not just what you think matters to your business. Anyway, what matters to your customers should matter to your business. Go beyond the usual financial and operational measures. Things like, customer effort of doing business with you, or anxiety scores pre-and post a diagnostic test/procedures could be included.

Done well, self-pay, may also be the lens through which your organisation could start to think and learn about how it innovates its business model more towards C2B in the age of increasing healthcare consumerism.

Thank you for reading this post. I’d be interested in any comments or discussion that it might have inspired. This has been ‘Away from the Heard’: The Saffron Steer blog.

[Cover photo credit:]