Friday, July 11, 2008

Healthcare Marketing and Communications

The Healthcare industry is one of the professions where advertisements are a strictly not allowed or strictly regulated and one cannot have any campaign that has the appearance of soliciting business. Also the Indian Council of Medical Research doesn’t allow the Healthcare professionals or the sector to advertise, the way other sectors are advertising in media. Healthcare marketing or advertising is a complex function as Indians don't like hospitals market themselves; the word marketing is still taboo for many doctors, physicians and hospitals. This is the main reason why Healthcare industry hires the services of a Communication Consultancy©.

The question is why should hospitals/doctors worry about promoting their service/practice? After all, if they are good then the patients will automatically go to them? To top it all if they are the only provider of a particular expertise in that region, then they don’t need to worry about marketing. Traditionally, the only acceptable marketing allowed for hospitals/doctors was “word of mouth”. Satisfied patients are the best word-of-mouth marketing tool a physician or hospitals can have because they tell others about the positive experiences they have had with the physician or hospitals.

But today, hospital/doctors compete for patients and if you want to see your practice grow and flourish, you need to market yourself. Also today hospitals and doctors can use other avenues to market themselves which are ethical. The purpose of marketing here is to inform potential patients and referral sources know who you are, what you do, and when and where you do it.
Early in 1980s the Healthcare industry started involving in India, most of the healthcare providers then were social trusts or CSR initiatives by big corporates like Wadia’s, Godrej, etc. Since these providers were not operating in the healthcare scenario for commercial gains they never promoted the services, the other possible reason being less number of healthcare providers so more demand. But after 1990s the healthcare scenario went in for a drastic change, licenses were granted for private healthcare providers and healthcare entrepreneurs who entered sector with world class treatment, unique services, sophisticated machines and state-of-art technology. Since the private hospital makes investments in setting up the infrastructure and offering its services; selling the services of a hospital needs an appropriate system for which spending is also indispensable.
So the perception of the word 'marketing' is has changed a lot in the present context. It is no longer about selling a product or a service. Today, marketing directs more towards fulfilling the needs of the user rather than selling a product. It is directed towards creating more faith in the organisation, creating awareness about services, quality, cost and philosophy of the organisation.
Marketing department, where the brand is created, carved, fashioned and communicated, sets the tone of the hospital. So manpower, size and budget for the marketing department have to be increased in order to be beneficial for hospital and patients. Hospitals should spend four to five per cent of their revenue on marketing.
The role of marketing department is not restricted to creating awareness for external customers only. Their job is to disseminate information about services internally to its existing customers and also be able to initiate a feedback mechanism for the management about perception of the level of services being provided as well any gap within the services which the operational team uses to be on continuous improvement and self assessment path.
Apart from helping to create a brand image for the healthcare institution, the department acts as an interface between the doctor and the public, like a liaison department in any product or service sector. The success of the marketing department depends on its association with various other departments. The marketing department acts like the front end that cannot perform its duties without the backing of the quality of back end operations.
Tertiary care hospitals need to put in continuous efforts to tap the area from where patients are not turning up, like a particular disease profile which is not attracting enough patients. Basically, the dept needs to create strategy for marketing those depts. or sectors to get those patients. The marketing strategy will involve events/seminars/symposiums/conferences…all these exercises requires a good budgets.
The marketing dept of hospitals plays many roles, like they facilitate corporate tie-ups for both inpatient and outpatient, health check-up tie-ups and credit client servicing, which would involve maintaining the existing tie-ups and renewing contracts, maintaining communication channels. They organise conferences, seminars, workshops, exhibitions, etc which would include all event management activities both within the hospital premises and at venues other than the hospital.
They engage in brand enhancement through publication, brochures, patient information material, corporate film, website, exhibitions, camps, etc. They also do Public Relations, VIP & visitor hospital tour, conduct patient satisfaction evaluation, market research for new facilities / services enhances market reach through franchising, expansion of ventures, medical tourism loyalty programmes and outreach programmes through support group programmes.

Hospital communications is about communicating “care” through your staff, facility and collateral.

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