The State of Independents: Private healthcare needs purpose

I recently attended a very well organised Private Healthcare Summit held at the King’s Fund in London.

The summit made it absolutely clear that independent healthcare in the UK is in a bit of a state with little or no growth, spiraling costs, slow innovation, the Competition and Markets Authority remedies to contend with, a poor perception of the sector in the media, mistrust amongst the main parties and a very dangerous sense of complacency. I would add to this that the players in this sector are also starkly undifferentiated with respect to their competitive positioning. Now, given that the main theme of the summit was “Working Together” and called for a spirit of greater cooperation one would’ve expected the mood of the summit to have been a bit more optimistic, with participants fired up to do more and explore all the opportunities available to them for addressing their challenges collectively. Sadly, this was not the case. The sector appears somewhat paralysed by the complexity of the state in which it finds itself. Hospital groups in particular look to be suffering from some confusion about how to fix things and move forward.

When situations are too complex and the ‘to-do’ list just keeps growing, inertia can set in and enthusiasm levels drop. It then becomes very difficult to know how to prioritise your efforts or even know where to start. Well, there is a way out of this. I’d suggest that independent organisations (providers, insurers, associations and regulators) take a step back and reevaluate their purpose.

Purpose is not the same as mission. Purpose is about WHY we exist and why we should exist. Mission, on the other hand, is about what we do, how we do it and whom we do it for. Purpose is more powerful than mission because it requires you to be more ‘outside-in’ i.e. truly focused on patients and customers. Too many independent healthcare organisations claim to be patient/customer centric but when you take a closer look you see that they actually do the opposite by configuring and organising themselves around internal needs. Turning your attention to patients and customers is a tough thing to accomplish at first, but a very smart thing to do. As healthcare transitions from a historically B2B to a B2C industry, it is going to become increasingly necessary to develop the skills to be patient and customer centric.

Exploring purpose means finding a way to express your organisation’s impact on the lives of your patients and customers. Organisations who understand their purpose will understand the roles that their products and services play in the everyday lives of their patients and customers, and these organisations will then have more meaning to their customers – and ‘meaning’ (which is grounded in purpose) is what customers are after. There are significant commercial gains to be had from this as customers lock on to the organisations that mean something to them, making it more difficult for competing organisations to tempt them away. No surprise then that this recent research demonstrates compelling support for meaning/purpose and the correlation to business performance.

You might’ve recognised the homage to one of my favourite songs by Donna Summer in the title of this post. I know it’s unconventional to make you link away from my blog but for a quick reminder of this classic click here! Over and above the anthemic sound and calypso groove of this track, its lyrics speak to remembering our truth and reality, affirming that our truth will come, if we look for it. This message is a definitive call to action for the “State of Independents”.

Exploring your purpose will open up a whole lot of strategic opportunities that you may never have considered and, believe me, it will excite your teams, reignite your passion and it’ll help you start to fix things in the right way!


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