Does Marketing Have a Place in Healthcare?

Why is it every time you walk down the hallway and pass by someone, you feel that you are someone on the outside looking in? Or that seemingly genuinely caring people are trying to flat out ignore you? Did you leave food on your face, or do you have a rip in your clothes? No, that probably is not the case, but in true Scarlet Letter fashion, you have been branded THE MARKETER. (And even more likely the Disruptive Marketer!)

Doctor’s shun you because they took the Hippocratic Oath. (Unless, of course, you are going to put them on a billboard). Finance folks think the only thing you do is spend money. Nurses hate you because you’re the one responsible for them being overworked. How dare you cause more people to need healthcare services! Others just don’t see the need for marketing because they have the “we are here, they will come anyway” mentality.

The problem is, that for the most part, marketing has had a tough road in provider-based healthcare. In many settings, people still think marketing is public relations. The reason harkens back to the basic Principles of the Marketing Mix:  Product, Place, Price and Promotion.

Healthcare marketers, generally speaking, are not active participants in the Product (primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare services are established), Pricing, (insurance contracts, Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement, self-pay is negotiated) and Place (placement of facilities, physician offices, clinics, etc. are established). The only marketing principle most marketing professionals are relegated to nurture is Promotion. The all-encompassing “bag of tricks” that other healthcare professionals view marketing uses to entice consumers into using its physicians and going to its facilities.

So, what is it going to take to get Marketing a little respect in the healthcare industry? We need to enable entire departments to shift from the idea of marketing a product to marketing an entire episode of care while keeping the patient at the center of everything we do.

This requires a focus on keeping patients healthy and well across the healthcare continuum versus treating them once they have been diagnosed. We need to think in terms of wellness versus sickness or injury. Marketers need to put resources (time and money) behind wellness awareness and outreach and engage target audiences when they are healthy instead of when they are in dire need of care.

We also need to be innovative in our approach to ensure a memorable and distinct patient experience. This is where digital marketing, social media tactics and customer service training come into play.

Finally, marketers need to act as consultants and help healthcare systems take a hard look at data in order to figure out where the biggest costs are and be able to provide marketing tools that will enable them to save money in these areas. Yes, this is different from brochures, leave behinds and staged-seminars of the past (to name a few), but as they say, “The only thing that is constant is change,” and as healthcare continuously evolves, we must as well.