Private Obstetrics: The Real Reason Why Private Patient Numbers Are Falling, And It’s Not Due To The Rebates.

Maternity wards have been closing and numbers of private patients are falling. 

I only discovered this recently, and when I did, I could see right through it. It’s not a problem of rebates or transparency. There is something very different going on here.

When patients say they don’t have the money for an obstetrician, it can be easy to believe them. Especially as doctors, this can be a bit awkward. So we begin to blame the costs. 

The problem is…

The money is just a smokescreen.

Here’s the thing…

If we assume that the average fee for a private obstetrician is approximately $6,000 from start to finish…
People are spending more than $6,000 on overseas holidays (some Aussies see going to Bali every year as a ‘fundamental human right’)

They spend 5 times that on kitchen renos they don’t need.

Or on a third car.

A new gearbox can cost close to 6K.

Or a new handbag, in some cases.
A Bugaboo pram can cost up to $1,600 and a quick Google search shows that cots can cost thousands of dollars.

Sure, your average punter with private healthcare isn’t going to spend that much on a cot, but we need to put things into perspective here.

And another example, apart from the Doctors Collective, we have another business which charges uni students $6,000 for a 12-month online exam preparation program ($6000 to uni students!).

Or you can pay for the guidance and support of a specialist with years of experience who will help you safely and happily bring the most precious thing into the world – you’re new baby.

There’s a clear disconnect here.


The real problem is that…

People are not seeing the value in paying for an obstetrician. 

They would rather spend their money (which they have) elsewhere and have a midwife look after them.

Don’t get me wrong. 

I don’t believe this is happening because the value is not there. In fact, I believe the value is there. Midwives are great, but when my wife and I had our first (and only, so far) baby we went private. 

We knew the difference of having a private obstetrician, we appreciated the difference and we were more than happy to pay for it. 

The problem is in the way the value of private obstetric care is being communicated with potential patients.

The evidence is even in this Sydney Morning Herald article.

The patient said, it was a service she was “looking for” and “it was worth it for me to pay” because “she was nervous. She had also seen her father have a tough time with a blood clot emergency through the public system wanted to have the care and attention of an obstetrician ‘from the beginning to the end’.”

She paid for the obstetrician because she understood the difference between having one and not, and could connect that to the money.

In this context of childbirth, $6,000 is a bloody bargain! 

Even in this article.

The patient in question was never going to be a private obstetrics patient, no matter what the rebates were. 

If we look behind the smokescreen of money, she just doesn’t like the way private obstetrics is done and so there was no value in it for her. She’s been convinced that giving birth alone in a cave is better than having a safe environment and someone who could handle any eventuality. (Ok the cave bit may have been my creative evil-genius.)

So there are three problems obstetricians are having around communicating their value, which is causing this dramatic fall in numbers.

1 – Trying to attract all the wrong patients

Before anything else, we need to look at the ideal patient for you.

If you’re trying to attract all women having a baby, of any age and any demographic and any personality, then we end up watering down the message and attracting no one. Your message won’t resonate with anyone because it will be too vague.

Or, what usually happens is that we just take anyone we can get. Usually from referrals.

Referrals are a double-edged sword. They feel nice because people are saying nice things about us and also we don’t have to do anything to get them other than do a good job.

However, you have zero control over who comes to you via referrals, when and how many of them. You also have zero control over how the value of your care is explained to the patient. 

This is not a good way to run things.

We need to refine the ideal patient to a specific type of woman. We need to know her demographics, but more importantly, her psychographics.

That way we can identify the problems she is having, as well as her doubts, concerns, wants, needs, the questions she has, and what’s most important to her during the pregnancy and delivery.

Then speak to that in your messaging and in the services you offer.

Over time you can do this for different patient groups but start with one at a time.

2 – The messaging should not be all about you.

The message most doctors get out there is all about themselves. Here’s who I am, what I do, I’ve been around for 15 years, I can help you with (insert a huge list that no one reads).

This is a problem because people see this kind of thing all the time. It doesn’t register anymore. It also doesn’t resonate with them. So it ends up being ignored.

And even if they did read it, they still don’t know if you can help because you’re asking them to self diagnose their needs. It won’t work.

Instead, we need to join the conversation going on in your ideal patient’s heart and mind. What’s she worried about?

For example, 

If you want to attract the first time mums with pre-existing medical conditions, who are professionals, in their early 30s. 

Think about what she will most likely be worried about, what will be her questions and fears?

Your message could then go something like:

“You’ve Been Worried About Having A Baby Because Of Your Endometriosis. 

Your Instagram feed is full of your friends with their newborns and you really want one. But all the troubles you’ve had in the past feel like it might be too much for you.

The idea of being pregnant fills you with fear, and happiness, all at the same time. You don’t want anything to go wrong. But you’re getting older and you really want to do this.

Work is also really busy and you’re going well there. So you want to know how you can manage it all, do it safely and be supported throughout.

To learn more, click here.”

Do you see the difference?

When she sees that message on her Facebook or Instagram feed, it’s going to stop her in her tracks. It’s going to talk directly to her, show her that you understand and can help.

Interestingly, it had nothing in it about you.

In terms of the legalities – Check out this webinar

I ran with a lawyer on effective marketing for doctors that’s within the guidelines. It will show you that providing education online (not advice) and speaking to the emotions in your marketing is fine.

3 – They need to have a great experience with you.

If people are paying a premium, they need to experience premium. 

The key thing is that the experience she has with you has to align with what’s important to her. 

So, longer or more in-depth consultations, doing things differently, with an online educational component or mothers groups or a community.

Now that you know who she is, what she wants and concerns are, you can address it all during your time together in a way she appreciates. This can be done in a very leveraged way so it doesn’t require much of your time, but provides a high level of perceived value.

These are just some of the things you can do to clearly show your potential patients the immense value in what you do and why it’s worth paying for.

In the above Sydney Morning Herald article, Dr. Stephen Lane from the National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says, “we’re not at crisis point yet.” 

Well, let’s not wait until then before we do something about this. 

Government intervention will not help in this case. However, changing the way we communicate the value of private obstetric care will.
If you would like to apply all of this to you and your practice, I’m happy to have a conversation about it. Just click here, enter your details and we’ll organise a time to chat.

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