Marketing in the health care space is still in its infancy, but that doesn’t make the industry immune to more generalized marketing maladies.
Social media shaming can challenge reputations. Negative provider reviews can deflect new patients or patient referrals. Mind-boggling bills can befuddle and frustrate.
Perhaps most at risk are doctors and providers that fail to recognize or acknowledge the role of marketing in a successful contemporary health care business – or the pitfalls of not marketing.
While convenience and price are typically drivers for other kinds of business, health care providers increasingly rise or fall based on credibility and experience. People will drive extra miles to see a physician they trust or view as experienced, even if it costs more because that physician is out of their health care network. That has made reputations and patient reviews more significant factors in health care marketing efforts.
However, getting good marketing or PR isn’t the same as running to the grocery store for a gallon of milk. Health care marketing has emerged as its own marketing subcategory, driven by patient privacy protections, governmental regulations and a bewildering health insurance marketplace. Patients aren’t persuaded by a news article or a celebrity endorsement. They put more trust in word-of-mouth validation from other patients.
If reputations and provider reviews play such an important role in patient decision-making, then it behooves health care providers to understand how they are regarded and why they get positive and negative ratings. Put another way, they need some quality market research before trying to market themselves. If you know what patients like and dislike about your practice or clinic, you can concentrate on the positives and correct the negatives.
Market research can take many forms. For a practice with an existing base of patients, it could be as simple as asking for feedback – from how patients are greeted at reception through the bedside manner of physicians, nurses and lab technicians. A more aggressive version of this approach would be to include former patients in the survey.
Focus groups can be an excellent market research tool. The group dynamic of a focus group can provide illuminating depth in both the positive and negative qualities of a health care practice, not to mention the language they use in talking about their health care needs and concerns.
Providers can pay attention to online reviews. Reviews may skew more toward negative comments, but still offer teachable moments of where and how to improve a practice. When false or misleading information is posted, providers can take steps to correct it.
Secondary research can be eye-opening, especially research that shows how providers successfully build trust with their patients and transfer that trust to potential patients. Secondary research can highlight trends in health care marketing and underscore how and when patients look for credible information.
Market research would be wise when implementing new procedures or introducing new technologies, such as telemedicine consultations. Treating patients as partners can build trust, especially if providers listen to concerns and adapt their procedures accordingly.
The point of market research is to inform marketing and PR efforts. Learning what patients like and what they don’t and where they turn for trusted referral information can be invaluable in designing a marketing and PR strategy. And you need a strategy before you start communicating.
Health care market research tends to follow the general pattern of downplaying flashy promises and focusing on concrete benefits. It could be as simple as assuring patients they won’t have long delays in scheduling a visit or cooling their heels in a waiting room for a delayed appointment.
As health care providers should realize, market research benchmarks the status of a reputation, so you can tell if marketing and PR is bending the curve in the right direction or just flapping in the wind. In the end, market research is all about listening to people. That’s something health care professionals can appreciate.