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 doctor’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 doctor’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 patients’ 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. Google’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 doctor’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
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
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. 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.in in September 2012 as an Online Healthcare