May 5, 2016

Physicians and Their Love/Hate Relationship with Marketing

In our experience, many physicians seem to have a love/hate relationship with marketing. On one hand, some physicians believe marketing is a waste of time—or worse, caustic to the sacred doctor/patient relationship. On the other hand, some physicians embrace marketing and welcome marketers with open arms.

We did some digging and wanted to share why your physician community may be split in their attitudes about marketing. Below are 5 reasons why physicians may not like marketing and 5 reasons why they embrace the role of marketing in attracting and communicating with patients.

Here are five reasons why physicians may not like marketing.

REASON #1 WHY PHYSICIANS HATE MARKETING: MARKETING MANIPULATES PATIENTS INTO BUYING SOMETHING THEY DO NOT NEED.

An article in the Journal of Medical Ethics addresses the rise of advertising and the disdain that it brought with it. “Although doctors certainly have financial interests in their work, advertising can make this interest so palpable and conspicuous that it may compromise the trust on which doctors and patients rely.”  “ The American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Ethics in 1847 made it clear that advertising was forbidden, saying it was “derogatory to the dignity of the profession …to resort to public advertisements”. Then, after the successful Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suit in 1975 (Goldfarb v Virginia State Bar), the AMA removed all prohibitions to advertising, retaining only a weak restriction against false or misleading advertising.

It has only been legal for the past 40 years for physicians to advertise. But as the baby boomer generation of doctors is retiring, the mentality of a time when doctors did not and should not advertise is shifting.

REASON # 2 WHY PHYSICIANS HATE MARKETING: PHYSICIANS HAVE AN ETHICAL OBJECTION TO MAKING PROMISES OR CLAIMS.

Physicians may think that marketing can make claims that are not backed by sound research, saying a hospital or doctor is “the best,” “has the newest technology” or “the most experienced.”  Says who? The truth is, doctors may know, based on medical research or within the medical community, that a certain claim just isn’t true.

Doctors feel these advertising claims dilute truly exceptional care.

REASON #3 WHY PHYSICIANS HATE MARKETING: DOCTORS HAVE A NEGATIVE ASSOCIATION BECAUSE OF AGGRESSIVE PHARMACEUTICAL ADVERTISING.

It speaks volumes that there are only two countries in the world, the United States and New Zealand that allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. Doctors have concerns that patients are lured into wanting prescriptions for drugs they may not need or have unreal expectations for a drug’s promise. The AMA has come out with strong arguments in hopes of changing pharmaceutical companies’ ability to advertise directly-to-consumers. In an article on STAT, the AMA “argues that the ads largely feature the latest and priciest medicines that few can afford.”  Due to the more recent cost increase of brand name medications, it is more likely to be a stronger argument than the more familiar objections.  “This tactic is more likely to resonate than the most commonly voiced arguments against drug ads — namely, that they misinform patients, overemphasize benefits, and encourage overuse.” A patient may ask their doctor for a drug prescription when quite possibly a generic is just as effective, or an entirely different drug may be a better fit for the patient’s health issue. Doctors often fear that if they don’t prescribe a requested medication, their patient may go to another provider. 

REASON #4 WHY PHYSICIANS HATE MARKETING: THEY BELIEVE MARKETING AND ADVERTISING ARE THE SAME.

When some doctors hear “marketing” they think “advertising”—and the worst kind of it, which generalizes claims, does not provide substantiated facts and “pushes” prospective patients into a solution before a medical diagnosis.

This may be an educational opportunity for you to help your physician community make the distinction between marketing and advertising.

Marketing is the process, which involves understanding where a prospective patient is on his/her medical journey, and how your organization can support her with knowledge, access to resources and suggested next steps to improve her health and wellness. This can be done by knowing your consumers and what they want, and how to best increase awareness through market research and community engagement, just to name a few.

Advertising is a possible solution to a marketing strategy, which may look like an advertisement or mailed publication or resource. Done correctly, advertisements can strengthen the relationship of the doctor/patient.

REASON #5 WHY PHYSICIANS HATE MARKETING: PHYSICIANS DON’T THINK THEY NEED MARKETING.

Doctors may feel like they don’t need marketing to attract new patients as they are booked out several weeks or months already. In other words, marketing is just making more work for them. Some physicians also believe that their patients come through referral sources—colleague physicians who are better sources of patients than advertising. However, the old paradigm of the referral-driven business model has shifted to more direct-to-consumer approaches. Like it or not, physicians today cannot rely solely on colleagues to fill their schedules.

But there’s good news….

Here are many reasons for doctors to love marketing.

REASON #1 WHY PHYSICIANS LOVE MARKETING: MARKETING IS NOT JUST ADVERTISING.

Health care is not just about seeing your doctor, it’s about the medical experience and care a patient receives. Marketing is an opportunity to take a step out, not back, and view the experience from the patient’s perspective and understand and improve that process. Just put yourself in a patient’s shoes! From making their appointment, to waiting to see the doctor, the actual visit and after, what could be done to make it a better experience? If a patient feels respected and positive when they see their physician, then the focus of the visit can be on their health. After all, that’s ultimately why the patient and the doctor are meeting together.

Marketing becomes the opportunity to make the experience the best it can be for doctors and patients.

REASON #2 WHY PHYSICIANS LOVE MARKETING: MARKETING HELPS EDUCATE PATIENTS.

Effective healthcare marketing is about educating patients and helping them become aware of their role and engaging them in their health care. Great marketing gives patients the health information they need, better tools to help motivate them to live healthier lives. Marketing can help physicians better equip patients with education, apps, and technology to monitor and hold accountable healthy lifestyles.

REASON #3 WHY PHYSICIANS LOVE MARKETING: MARKETERS CAN HELP NAVIGATE SOCIAL MEDIA.

The influence of social media is growing. The site Yelp isn’t just used to pick a great restaurant anymore, but is a powerful consumer tool. Yelp is now rating the patient experience of a hospital stay more comprehensively than a standardized survey assessment tool. In an April 2016 FierceHealthcare newsletter, the author writes: “Yelp reviews went deeper into the patient experience than the HCAHPS survey. Reviews included assessments of comfort, billing issues and hospital costs, in part because family members posted reviews along with patients. Only discharged patients are queried in the HCAHPS survey.”

Marketing gives everyone an opportunity to take a look at what works well and capitalize on that, what may need improvement and strategize to improve that.

REASONS #4 WHY PHYSICIANS LOVE MARKETING: EFFECTIVE MARKETING IS EVIDENCE BASED.

Physicians practice evidence-based medicine backed by research. Showing the evidence that marketing can improve the patient/doctor experience is critical for physician buy-in. It’s important to speak their language and connect the research dots for them, demonstrating that marketing practice should be based on evidence-based research as well. We need to show doctors the research on why we believe marketing is necessary and what we prescribe, if you will. Implementing metrics that can measure customer loyalty, patient’s response to physician communication, and use of patient electronic health information are important tools to show doctors why we need to use marketing. And good marketing is about educating the patient and giving them the information they need and the healthcare experience they expect.

REASON #5 WHY PHYSICIANS LOVE MARKETING: MARKETING CAN HELP PATIENTS FIND THE RIGHT DOCTOR.

Where do you go to find a needle in a haystack? The internet of course. There’s an opportunity to connect patients who need specialized care with a physician who has the experience they need by making sure that information can be found on a hospital website or physician practice website. Promoting a physician’s area of expertise may just save a life or make that life worth living again.

Whether your marketing efforts have you directly interacting with physicians or your marketing department works directly with the doctors, you need their buy-in. The reality is that practicing medicine has become a business, the business of better health with a quality experience. And marketing is part of that business. But marketing is a team effort. So, marketers, and physicians, and their office staff all working together help improve the patient experience, the office experience, and just maybe, even physician satisfaction.

Are you making the right promise?

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