The coronavirus pandemic has had a drastic effect on employment in Australia. The official government numbers place the unemployment rate at 5.2%, but Goldman Sachs believes that the statistics may be misleading as they do not take into account the number of people not working but retained using the JobKeeper payments, older people not actively looking for work during the lockdown even if they would prefer to work, those furloughed at a reduced wage but still technically employed and people that have had their hours drastically cut. The financial firm believes that by June, the suspected peak of the coronavirus lockdown, the true unemployment rate may be as high as 19%.
Some medical professions have been hit harder than others by the lockdown, such as optometrists and dentists facing strict regulation on what kinds of services can be offered, but all medical professionals are feeling the pinch. As such, patients are booking fewer and fewer appointments. There are many reasons for this reticence to book a medical appointment, including fear of catching COVID-19, but one of the most pressing is financial uncertainty. Everybody is feeling the pinch in some way - even those currently working worry that their jobs may be in jeopardy.
One of the surest ways to maintain a patient base when everyone is looking at the bottom line is to communicate a “care now, pay later” approach to your patients. Many people will put off a visit, test or treatment that may be needed due to the immediate financial strain, so giving them the option of having their needs taken care of and offering deferred payments or payments via instalment gives them the confidence to get the help they need and reduce the chance of people defaulting on fees.
Australia has one of the best healthcare systems in the world both in terms of outcomes and insurance, both public and private, but even those with excellent private health insurance sometimes have large gap payments that can seem like an insurmountable hurdle. An emergency wisdom tooth removal might be covered by private health insurance, but might incur a gap payment for an anaesthetist and other surgical needs. Similarly, something as simple as breaking a pair of glasses can make for a big bill at a moment’s notice.
While some people may have the money to pay a large bill upfront, research conducted by financial analysts in 2019 showed that almost half of Australians were living paycheque to paycheque , and could be financially undone by losing their job or a large, unexpected bill. There are no current research statistics on the number of people living in dire financial straits, but an increase in the number of people or households living from paycheque to paycheque or even day to day must have risen.
Payment plans allow patients to schedule payments over time, allowing them to integrate smaller payments into their budget rather than a single large payment. Openpay is an Australian company that allows for easy, no interest payment plans. Once a payment is due and a plan has been agreed to, you will be paid the full fee (minus transaction and administration fees) and Openpay takes ownership of the repayments, performing any follow ups as may be needed without input from your business.
Having clear lines of communication between your practice and patients, both existing and new, is vital. Being able to let the public know about any specials you may be offering, that you have payment plans available, or even spreading the message that you understand that things are tough right now in terms of both finances and confidence can help prompt otherwise reticent patients to book appointments.
Social Media - Establishing and maintaining a social media presence, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram (or preferably all three) is an excellent way to cheaply disseminate information to your patients and create a rapport that can help to ease any fears of coming in for an appointment. As well as allaying fears of possibly contracting the coronavirus, social media posts are an excellent way to promote special offers or the availability of payment plans.
Email Blasts - While not everyone who receives an email from their doctor is likely to open or read it, an email blast to all your patients on file is an extremely efficient way to let your patients know of any special offers, discounts or payment plans you may be offering.
Reminders (email and SMS) - Reminders for booked appointments or recalls sent to patients for annual checkups can contain a brief message to reinforce the idea that your practice is safe to visit or that you understand that finances may be tight and you are willing to accept payment plans. SMS reminders and recalls are an effective way to ensure that your message is read, but brevity is key.
Home Page Content - As many people will do some preliminary research online before committing to a new healthcare provider, keeping your homepage updated with relevant information is a great way to have returning or new patients learn about any steps you have made to reduce patient financial burden. Such information shown on your practice homepage can give you a leg up over other practices.
If you’d like help with your social media and communication strategies, MyHealth1st has an experienced marketing team ready and willing to help out. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Another way of potentially helping to increase your practice revenue is to integrate new technologies into your practice. To help with the COVID-19 crisis, the Australian government made telehealth available for all Australians. It’s unlikely that after the crisis has ended that this new way of connecting with patients will go away. Telehealth is the future of Australian Medicine .
For more information on payment plans, telehealth or communications, the team at MyHealth1st is always happy to talk through your situation and find a solution for your needs. To learn more how our team can help your practice through these times, click here