It is well reported that the number of self-pay patients is on the rise in the private medical sector. In fact, experts have forecasted that the self-pay market will continue to experience a growth of 10-15% in the next three years.
So as a private practitioner, how can you ensure that you can appropriately cater for this type of patient and ensure that you do indeed get paid for your services? And with cash and cheques being virtually non-existent nowadays, is there additional cost to being able to process card payments?
Giving your patients options for payment
For all private medical professionals, it is of upmost importance to have the ability to accommodate to a patient’s particular needs. Giving your patients clear payment options at each stage of their treatment will help them to feel comfortable and in control, especially when it comes to finances.
A patient’s circumstance can have a direct effect on how and when they will pay for their treatment. So, to make sure your debt levels are controlled, and invoices are paid promptly, it is important to think about providing patients with various payment options along the way.
This can include bank transfer, cheque, cash, direct debit and of course via credit or debit card. It is also recommended that you discuss the possibility of asking for upfront payment collections before treatment is completed or agreeing bespoke payment plans to fit their needs.
Having these conversations early on will not only save you a lot of headaches along the way and the possibility of chasing payment, it will ensure that your patient is getting the best experience with your practice as there will be no unexpected surprises or confusion over costs.
The rise in card transactions
With all organisations increasingly working towards a ‘paperless environment’, the volume of credit and debit card payments have naturally risen over time. Pre-2018, around 77% of patients chose to use credit or debit card to pay their medical invoices. If we compare this to 2021, this number has increased to 81%!
Paperless working is not the only catalyst though. In January 2018, the government introduced a ban on allowing organisations to add a surcharge onto a payment being taken via debit or credit card. For private medical professionals, this meant having to foot hefty bills charged by their card processing provider as opposed to passing these fees onto their patients. As a result, taking card payments negatively affects your profitability as a practice!
Due to the detrimental effect COVID-19 has had on NHS waiting times, particularly for orthopaedics and ophthalmology, 1 in 3 patients are now considering paying privately for treatment. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that will result in even more card processing fees for medical professionals to bear the brunt of.
The true cost of card transaction fees
The average card processing fee can vary and is dependent on the organisation processing the transactions and the card type.
In fact, merchant services fees, card machine costs, and online payment fees can differ massively between providers. Different providers will be cheaper for businesses operating in different ways so it is possible to shop around for the best rates.
However, typically, for a medical specialist processing <£380k per annum (which would represent most individual private healthcare professionals) the average charge lies between 1.6% - 1.95% of the transaction amount.
What does this mean for the average private medical professional?
What’s clear is that the average percentage of self-pay patients in comparison to insured patients is on the rise within the private sector. Currently, at least 30% of patients who come through the door will self-fund, and in some cases, that percentage can be much higher.
Using the data collected, it is estimated that the average earning private medical professional in the UK could be spending in excess of £570 per annum on card charges alone.
These figures do not include insured patients who have been left with a shortfall to pay so in reality, the figure is likely to be much higher.
So does this mean that self-pay patients are more hassle than their worth? Well, let’s weigh that up.
While they may incur additional charges to you through card payments, if your payment processes are clear and in place (such as upfront payment), you are getting money through the door a lot quicker than other types of patients - and with a lot less admin involved.
It could also reduce the risk of late payments and aged debt building up so your revenue income and cash flow is a lot more steady. So, despite the cons of incurring charges, there are still a lot of other pros…
What can you do to alleviate these additional charges?
There is of course a way you can reduce the chance of these charges and ensure you can manage self-pay patients in the most effective way - and that’s through using a billing partner. As part of our own billing service, we provide:
- Same day and e-billing - invoices are issued as soon as we have receipt of client instructions and our highly secure, e-billing capabilities enable outstanding debt to be kept to a minimum.
- Card fees are absorbed - as part of our service, we will foot the bill for any credit card charges you incur (so that's one less cost for you to worry about)
- Tailored invoicing to suit your needs - we personalise our billing processes and templates to suit you and your patients, ensuring your debtors receive all the relevant information in the appropriate format, which helps us eliminate payment delays.
- CCSD coding for faster, accurate payments - our extensive knowledge of CCSD coding rules, which are embedded in our software, allows us to advise you on optimum procedure code combinations to ensure you invoice the right fees.
- Proven credit control process - we have developed a proven credit control process to enable efficient collection in minimal time, helping us achieve the lowest bad debt in the industry.
- Extensive self-payer experience - we are experienced at dealing directly with self-pay patients or patients who receive a shortfall passed on by their insurance company. We understand the importance of providing an outstanding patient service.
If you’d like to find out about how you can manage your self-pay patients or learn more about our range of services and experience, feel free to get in touch with a member of our friendly team.