Why Doctors and Hospitals Need to Market Healthcare
Summary: Landscape of medical practice has undergone profound change. Patients are proactively seeking healthcare and therefore doctors, hospitals and diagnostic services providers also need to proactively market their services to their proactive consumers.
The issue of healthcare marketing has its origin in changing landscape of medical practice whether in hospitals or in doctorâ€™s clinics. Expansion of scientific knowledge, vast expansion in range of available diagnostic services and therapeutic modalities coupled with easy availability has contributed in a great measure to increasing complexity of this changing landscape.
The scenario is further complicated by increasing demand for evidence based medicine which in reality seeks to minimize interpretive role of treating doctor and maximize role of direct scientific evidence. This demand for scientific evidence is duly supported by increasing specificity, accuracy and precision of easily accessible diagnostic services and treatment options.
But this has also profoundly increased cost of healthcare. Economic pressures have resulted in fragmentation of patient community ranging from patients demanding time tested clinical acumen based medical practice to strictly scientifically and legally valid practice coupled with their demand for extensive documentation in the form of electronic health records; with shades of grey in-between. According to a study conducted in USA, only 22% patients expressed satisfaction with their doctors. Therefore it is not surprising that patients keep wandering from one doctor to another.
The changing landscape has tremendously increased investments required to establish medical establishments. So much so that there has been corporatization of healthcare and return on investment (ROI) has become the prime motivating factor for any potential and current investor. It is no longer possible for medical profession to ignore profit maximization theory of firm. Another fall out of this scenario is that there is no dearth of treasure hunters in the shape of potential investors and experts seeking to earn their pound of flesh by fishing in troubled waters. They tend to layer medical practice with their tools and techniques often of doubtful significance to patient welfare. Undoubtedly practicing doctors need to connect to their establishments because of infrastructural requirements of modern healthcare and thus become prey to their idea of medical practice.
Nature of doctor patient relationship has undergone a sea change during later part of the last century. With increasing consumerism patients now regard themselves as doctorâ€™s customer and demand to be treated as a customer. Patient right advocates are increasingly demanding patient centric care which essentially means that patients decide everything and doctors merely assist them in decision making. Patients have received support from both – legislature and judiciary in claiming their perceived rights. So patients have a right to informed decision making and duty of a doctor is to provide all the relevant information needed to take informed decisions. But patientsâ€™ decision criterions are highly variable and this has led to segmentation of patients into different preference groups. There are patients who demand five star comfort and convenience and there are patients for whom cost is the only criterion. In fact according to a study by Deloitte Consulting, 34% of patients are cost conscious.
Cost of medical treatment in developed world has given rise to medical tourism. Patients travel great distances to control cost of health care they need. Internet has greatly facilitated development of medical tourism.
Expansion of internet has considerably influenced patient behavior. A study by Google shows that 8 out of net savvy patients and caregivers search internet for health related information. Googleâ€™s data shows that health related information is the type of information most often sought on the internet. In fact this is the third most common activity on internet after email and search activity. Patients and caregivers search internet for a variety of information. Women more frequently search for health related information then men; maybe it is because they are often the caregivers. Type of information sought also varies with age. Youngsters often tend to search symptoms related information whereas elderly often tend to search treatment related information.
The most often observed behavior is that patients and caregivers search relevant information on the net and then consult their doctor in order to participate in the decision making process of healthcare being provided to them. So patients are no longer passive participants who would accept their doctorâ€™s word as a gospel truth. They are active participants in administration of healthcare. Experience shows that an informed patient is a better patient, being more compliant with his doctorâ€™s advice.
Massive expansion of medical sciences during the past and the present century has led to emergence of large number of specialties, subspecialties and niches. Moreover doctors and hospitals have often organized specialty clinics and hospitals to provide organized care to patients suffering from particular chronic ailments. Traditionally doctors and hospitals have relied upon mouth of word publicity only even for marketing of their highly specialized services requiring vast catchment areas.
Patients are a highly granular community with their selection criterion, demands and interference criterion varying from case to case and from one context to another. They can keep any doctor on his toes in a bid to customize their healthcare not only according to their clinical condition but also according to their individual preferences. The entire concept of pyramid of healthcare having its beginning in primary health care and carried through a system of referrals is a non-performer in a country like India because patients and caregivers often decide the specialist to consult rather than their general practitioner and approach specialist directly without any involvement of their local doctor.
Traditionally doctors, hospitals and diagnostic services have relied upon word of mouth publicity and referral services for reaching target recipients of their services. However this is becoming increasingly insufficient in view of the changing landscape discussed above. Â Doctors, hospitals and diagnostic service providers also need to extend their reach and penetration into the community of patients locally as well as globally.
Increasing consumerism and increasing specialization require health care providers to be active participants in this market led economy. The later has mandated that doctors draw their clientage from large and quite often inaccessible catchment areas and this is not possible without efficient deployment of effective marketing tools and techniques. Therefore it is not surprising that doctors, hospitals and diagnostic centers are increasingly resorting to aggressive marketing of their services through various media such as TV, radio, print media etc. Patients and caregivers are also actively seeking this information through all available channels which includes not only traditional channels but also social media, mobile and digital media. According to a study published by Google, health care providers relying only on traditional channels for lead generation lose one out of two leads generated to their online competitor. Rise of electronic media has made the competitor only a few clicks away!
Hence whatever view ethics and law may hold about marketing of healthcare, it is a reality of the market place and we should all come to terms with it. With consumers taking a more proactive approach to health, you need a more proactive approach to reaching them. Hence it is imperative that in this universe dominated by Darwinian Struggle for Existence, doctors, hospitals and diagnostic service providers need to resort to aggressive marketing of healthcare to reach out to those who need their services and to sustain relations with them.
Author: Varun Jain is a qualified engineer. He completed his B. tech in 2011 from Delhi College of Engineering. Thereafter he worked for Deloitte Consulting, Hyderabad. But within a short span he realized that a job is not something he is really interested in. He wanted to set out as an independent but innovative entrepreneur. He expressed his thoughts before his family and with due family support he launched http://curatio.inÂ in September 2012 as an Online Healthcare Marketing Hub.