The private healthcare market in 2021: a prediction

Prediction of the private healthcare market 2021

By Chris Rogers

Healthcare marketer with over 14 years experience, and co-founder of the Private Practice Surgery.

December 2020

Update to private healthcare market article: Well, I got that wrong! But really I just second-guessed myself. The data showed it was Bill Bailey all the way, which means that the predictions for private healthcare should still hold true…

(And how I know Ranvir Singh will win Strictly Come Dancing)


I’m arguably mad to try and forecast the future after this crazy year. But while no one has a crystal ball, I’m going to use the next best thing to make a prediction about the private healthcare market in 2021: Google Trends.

Google Trends is a Google tool that analyses the popularity of search terms over time. This means it can give you a unique insight into what people are thinking (and Googling) about, and how this has changed during a particular period.

It also allows you to compare the relative popularity of two or more search terms, but we’ll come back to that shortly.

How popular are search terms related to private healthcare?

Let’s take a look at how Google Trends works in practice.

I used the tool to find out the relative interest over time of three search terms since the first national lockdown began on 23rd March: “health insurance”, “private hospital” and “NHS waiting list”.

After exporting the results into Microsoft Excel, I plotted the line graphs and added trend lines.

First search term: “private hospital”

Google Trends private hospital graph | Private Healthcare Market

We can see from the trend line that the popularity of this search term has steadily increased since lockdown began. On Google’s scoring scale of 1 to 100, it’s gone from the high 20s in late March to over 45 in late October.

Private hospitals are likely to have garnered more interest than usual from the public in this period. It was widely reported in the news that the NHS had block booked all English private hospitals to help in the fight against COVID-19, so the increase may be nothing more than passing interest.

This is where the concept of “searcher intent” comes in. There may be a number of reasons why someone made a particular search, which is why it is helpful to look at a variety of terms before drawing any conclusions.

The second search term might be a little more enlightening.

Second search term: “health insurance”

Google Trends health insurance graph

The term “health insurance” has had a much bigger increase in interest over the same period, with its score going from 40 to over 60.

Because health insurance is a product, it’s much more likely to have a ‘buying’ intent behind it. So we may, therefore, be able to infer that the searcher is interested in purchasing a policy – and be able to enjoy the benefits that come with health insurance, such as faster access to a consultant specialist.

Third search term: “NHS waiting list”

Google Trends NHS waiting list graph

Lastly, despite much smaller levels of interest relative to the other two search terms, there’s still a doubling of interest in the term “NHS waiting list”, with its score going from 10 to 20.

What does Google Trends tell us about Private Practice?

Simply put, the increased interest for our three search terms tells us that the UK public is researching NHS waiting lists, private hospitals and health insurance much more than it was at the start of the first national lockdown.

So what could this mean?

Well, we already know that patients have been putting off (or have been unable to have) their elective procedures throughout 2020 because of the pandemic.

It could also be that patients haven’t been able to get a referral to secondary care at all. Or they have, only to find themselves at the end of a big queue.

My interpretation of the increased search interest is that patients don’t want to hang around any longer. They’re either in pain or discomfort, or fed up with delays. And they’re looking for ways to circumvent the long waiting lists.

Enter the private healthcare sector.

This, for me, is a positive indication of the likely demand for private healthcare in 2021. It suggests that private healthcare will see a strong resurgence, and I expect the market value will beat 2018’s £5.8bn as reported by Laing & Buisson.

So if you’re a private healthcare provider, your job now is to make sure you’re ready!

How can we be confident in Google Trends as a predictor of anything?

This is a great question. And of course, we can’t really predict the future with it. The intent behind the search term could vary wildly, so we’ll never really know.

But Google Trends does give us meaningful insight that we shouldn’t ignore. The problem is we won’t know if my predication for 2021 comes true for at least another 13+ months. So – just for fun – to try and validate my longer-term prediction, I’m going to make a shorter-term prediction.

Earlier, I said that Google Trends also allows you to compare the relative search volume of two or more terms.

The final of the BBC TV show Strictly Come Dancing is due to air on Saturday 19th December. And as much as the show is about talent, the public plays a role in deciding who the winner is… making it (in part) a popularity contest.

I entered the names of the remaining contestants to see the relative interest in them over the last 30 days. We can see that Bill Bailey has been a favourite among Googlers throughout the competition (and he is currently the favourite with the bookmakers), but in the last week or so, both Ranvir Singh and HRVY have shot up in popularity.

The winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2020 will be…

Google Trends Strictly 30 days

Ranvir Singh!

I’m going to assume that Ranvir will hold on to her very recent top spot in relative interest among searchers to predict that she will take home the Glitterball trophy. Congratulations!

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