“It’s not fitting with the profession.”
“Marketing is what suppliers do, it’s not the sort of thing we get involved in.”
“Why waste money when our books are already full.”
Not so long ago responses like these were commonplace when we spoke to practitioners about marketing their services. And while we still hear these sentiments, they are becoming less frequent as healthcare practices begin to recognise the benefits that marketing can bring to their services.
There are still pockets of resistance of course, particularly in some very traditional healthcare fields. By comparison however, even the legal profession, once great stalwarts of professional conservatism, now understand the need to market their businesses. In fact, you would be hard pressed nowadays to find a legal firm without a formal marketing plan and at least a moderate promotion budget.1
If you’re not already undertaking some form of marketing for your practice, and you still need a good reason to justify it, then here it is – things change – and in health the ground rules are changing with increasing regularity.
Health is by far the most volatile industry there is for proposed or imposed changes to existing systems and procedures. Every day, industry news is full of reports and announcements on subjects that have potential to impact on current practice and practice management.
In some areas of health, the amount of change taking place can be simply overwhelming. Social, commercial, political, even environmental activity all have the capacity to alter the way you practice and carry on your business to some degree. Things like increasing corporatisation, the introduction of Super Clinics, Medicare Locals, SmartClinics, pending patient managed e-Health records, slow erosion of Medicare rebates, and changes in service provisions via the Federal Government health reforms. All of these impose changes to the status quo.
So, how does this threaten you exactly? While some changes can influence your activities directly, some are designed to influence your patients and their behaviour indirectly. One thing that is consistent is that the majority of change in healthcare is driven by other parties, often for the greater good supposedly, but also, in most cases to alter the playing field more in their favour than yours.
No matter how busy your practice might be now, even if you simply want it to stay exactly the same tomorrow, then you need to think about how you will achieve that. As your accountant will quickly tell you, to stay in business you need to continually review and adjust how the business works to stay ahead of competition, or even to just keep up with patient expectations. Often this means altering what your practice consists of, how and when it operates, or what it offers patients.
When change is needed in any business, then it’s generally time to consider marketing in the process. Marketing should not be considered as some ominous form of persuasion. You probably already tell patients about your services verbally. Informing them through a marketing campaign is no different, just far more reaching.
You might consider marketing to increase your income, expand your patient base, improve your practice image, promote current and new services, or even to discourage competition.
Of course, combating forces around you and protecting prosperity are not the only reasons you may want or need to undertake marketing. Marketing is also about creating change as well. It may be needed to enter a new marketplace, communicate the addition of new staff to local colleagues, or make the practice experience more satisfying by encouraging a particular type of patient.
Now we admit if you are a small or solo practice that is struggling to keep up with demand, then you hardly want to be spending funds on creating more demand. However, even if your books are full, it can be helpful to inform your existing patients about services that they might not know about, for instance, if you specialise in an area such as travel health or if you want patients to book longer consultations in certain circumstances.
Good marketing is no more than educating your patients and community, and there are a lot of reasons for doing it. Not all of which have a purely financial basis. In general practice for example, findings of a recent BEACH study suggested that with 60% of adults and 28% of children overweight or obese, 15% of adults daily smokers, and 27% reported drinking ‘at-risk’ levels of alcohol… “General practices have excellent access to ‘at-risk’ Australians – building their potential to successfully support effective national interventions should be a priority”. 2
Educating communities through marketing to reduce unnecessary treatment can be a legitimate priority in stressed practice situations.
An important thing to remember is that marketing does not need to be hard sell or unethical in order to work. In fact the opposite is true. It is simply a means for letting patients know that you are able to care for them. Given today’s highly enlightened environment in which patients are eager to find a ‘true’ healthcare advocate, any information received from your practice should be genuinely welcomed.
So, what exactly is marketing anyway and how does it work? Read more…
1. Reid, M, 2008, ‘Contemporary Marketing in Professional Services’, Journal of Services Marketing vol 22 no5, pp. 374-384.
2. General practice activity in Australia 2009–10, BEACH - Bettering the Evaluation And Care of Health, A joint report by the University of Sydney and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, December 2010. - Forward, iii.