Marketing in health care is a relatively young discipline, with the concept taking hold approximately three decades ago in the 1970s. It’s easy to see why some might be uneasy about marketing health care products and services. Few businesses face the level of regulatory and privacy barriers that health care institutions face when trying to promote their goods. Fewer still face the life and death consequences of “goods gone wrong” that hospitals and other care providers face.
Moreover, health care institutions have unique customers in that the consumers of their products and services are patients—patients who may need surgery, a life-saving treatment, or assistance with delivering a child. To “sell” these items by traditional marketing means may cause some to pause. There is no question that marketing and advertising of health care products and services introduces a significant gray area. What makes this heart surgeon better than that heart surgeon? Why should I go this doctor for a checkup rather than the doctor across town?
Nevertheless, in today’s climate, the hospital or health care provider that doesn’t market themselves appropriately quickly falls behind. Brand and name recognition is as important in health care as it is in any other business. Marketing must participate in the shaping of health care at the institutional and societal leave. As consumers of health care services (i.e., patients) become savvier, and as current health care legislation creates more consumers, marketing will play a critical role in the health care industry.
In particular, health care institutions will need to figure out how to capitalize on the social media upswing. According to Matt Jameson Evans, co-founder and chief medical officer of Health Unlocked in the UK, a patient with a chronic disease such as diabetes spends nearly 9,000 hours a year managing their condition on their own and just three hours with a health care professional. Health care marketing will need to adapt to the rapid changes introduced by digital health and emerging electronic communications as they continue to shape how and through which medium is delivered.
As health care reform rolls out across the next few years, it will become critical for hospitals, health systems, providers, the pharmaceutical industry, and other health care entities to determine how to reach and then how to talk to a growing number of patients—patients who are frequent Internet users and information seekers, not just passive receivers of health care services.
Perhaps of all the changes faced in the industry of marketing is the from marketing in health care to health care marketing—recognizing the unique nature of health care services and the fact that although traditional marketing principals certainly apply to the industry, health care marketing implies something more specific, something more attuned to the needs of patients receiving care. Whether patients drive this change or whether health care marketers are able to get out in front of it will be interesting to see.