Don’t Forget the Humans: Medical Marketing for a New Era
If there is one thing that struck us from the massive amounts of information distributed during Lung Cancer Awareness Month, it was how essential it is that hospitals and other healthcare organizations develop strategies to communicate the non-medical aspects of their organizations.
As we read through the hundreds of pages of literature disseminated by the major cancer-fighting associations, it was intriguing how impersonal that information was.
There was an abundance of suggestions on what should be done to avoid lung cancer — don’t smoke, avoid prolonged exposure to radon, beware of occupational or environmental exposure to things like radiation, asbestos or extreme air pollution.
It is critical that healthcare organizations publish this kind of material, but we’ve found that these organizations and physicians often devote too much of their literature and communications on describing disease states and their treatment, rather then the personal or human aspects of the patients managing these conditions.
Know Your Audience
Many healthcare professionals seem to forget that they are speaking to people and not medical records or disease states — actual humans whose lives and choices are not solely defined or determined by their illnesses.
While patients and other consumers seek knowledge about a particular disease when it becomes a personal matter to them or a family member, they will not simply be judging your organization by the detail of your publications and knowledge of your specialists.
Generally speaking, patients don’t have enormous medical knowledge. That’s why they come to an organization like yours, but because they don’t have medical expertise, they’re not in a position to prejudge your clinical skills.
They assume clinical excellence, though they’ll know when it’s not there after a visit or two.
Instead, it is the non-medical qualities of your organization that are likely to being more patients through your door. In other words, it’s the art of medicine (vs. the science) that goes a long way toward defining quality for patients.
This means working on how patients experience your hospitals and improving communications and patient interaction to ensure that they will recommend to family and friends that they should also receive care from you and building a strong reputation in the community.
In some ways, you are judged like any other consumer product — the reviews of patients and other professionals or physicians are the most powerful and convincing referrals you can get.
Understand How Patients Make Assessments
You’ve probably experienced a similar phenomenon yourself with non-medical services.
Think of how you went about finding a plumber the first time or a furnace repair service in the middle of winter. You probably sought out the advice of a friend who had occasion to need those services.
A review from someone you know carries extraordinary power — even if they aren’t an expert.
For example, as I was looking through my Facebook feed recently, I saw that a friend of mine had gone on a long rant about a physician she visited.
The friend’s description was detailed, coldly factual and quite damning. Not a single aspect of it had to do with the physician’s expertise. Rather, it has to do with how my friend had been treated during her visit.
Thanks to this post, the physician in question now has a reputation among my friend’s circle. It is highly likely that those individuals will never seek out care from this doctor and some may even warn their friends and family to do the same.
Make Your Organization First Choice
But as influential as personal recommendations can be when it comes to not choosing a product, service, or company, professional references seem to carry a more weight when it comes to making a decision.
ACOs and other healthcare organizations need to work on building relationships with those organizations and individuals likely to point patients your way — from local chapters of national health societies to the neighborhood pharmacist.
Having staff members available to speak with business and senior groups is a good thing, too. This kind of person-to-person interaction is something that a patient will remember when they’re looking for care.
The goal is to make yourself known as the best health care organization around so that when negative reviews come— and they will no matter how much money you pour into health care strategies— it would be hard for any patient to give those criticisms any credence.