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Self-paid customers are on the rise at Doctors Hospital, Guardian Business can reveal, as tough economic times have driven receivables up 30 percent.
Patients that cannot handle their bills have caused the BISX-listed company to engage "a number of agencies" to try and recoup more than $5 million in outstanding monies, according to Charles Sealy, the CEO of Doctors Hospital.
He said the spike in receivables is indeed a "sign of the times", and indicative of the high unemployment rate and Bahamians trimming back on healthcare coverage to make ends meet.
"When we look at receivables, it comes from self-paid customers. We're seeing an increase in this area, in terms of those who don't have third-party insurance," Sealy explained. "A number would have lost their jobs and lost group insurance benefits. When they seek to reduce their expenditures, they will sometimes drop their healthcare to take care of other necessities."
While the hospital has hired "internal and external" agencies to collect outstanding funds, the problem, he added, is you are going after individuals who simply don't have the ability to pay.
The situation is especially difficult in healthcare, as the establishment is reluctant to turn anyone down that needs medical attention.
Sealy emphasized to Guardian Business that the institution works with every customer that's having trouble with medical bills, adding that Doctors Hospital does not intend on denying access whenever possible.
The Doctors Hospital chief said an eventual decline in receivables and self-paid customers will be a good indicator that the economy is in a state of recovery. When this happens, management will consider large infrastructure projects.
Earlier this year, Guardian Business revealed that Doctors Hospital has designed an extension to the main Shirley Street location that would nearly double its size.
The project would provide superior care to Bahamians, and could also enable the private hospital to increase its medical tourism product.
"We are watching to see if the times change before we make capital injections," he said. "That will cost a significant penny. We hope to stagger the growth, but the economy still needs to rebound."
What will go ahead as planned, however, is the new Blake Road facility in western New Providence. The CEO told Guardian Business that the project has been pushed back about two weeks. The clinic should open in mid-June, he said.
He explained that the opening of Blake Road will be an opportunity to expand international care. By the beginning of September, Doctors Hospital should see international patient programs becoming part of the regular menu.
Of course, the expansion will also come at a cost. "It won't be significant in terms of revenue in the first year," according to the CEO.
The $1.2 million clinic makes up a large portion of Doctors Hospital's capital expenditure for this year, with various upgrades to equipment at the main facility expected to occur.
According to its annual report for the year ending January 31, 2012, the BISX-listed company saw a 66 percent increase in net income for fiscal 2012 despite major increases in costs.
Sealy revealed electricity costs, licenses and duties on equipment continue to be challenges. However, Doctors Hospital has and will continue to invest in efficient technology to help reduce costs, targeting a 10 percent decrease in operating costs for this year.
Apart from the Blake Road facility, there is also reason to believe that the hospital's revenue could rise. The Doctors Hospital CEO said a growth strategy to the Family Islands is underway, looking at "tele-medicine" services. The institution would offer its services to establishment clinics on those islands and offer service through video conferencing.
"It is an opportunity to increase the quality of healthcare in the country," Sealy said. "Being an archipelago comes with challenges. A monitor can be established at these facilities, and if someone presents themselves there, the doctor will have access to an emergency room doctor at Doctors Hospital."
Billing could be done on a case-by-case basis, he added, or a rental fee may be charged to the Family Island facility.