I have worked for more than 8 years in healthcare services Marketing and am yet to meet a doctor who says that he does not need Marketing support. The funny thing is that all of them believe that the Marketing team always does more for the next guy and all of them collectively believe that the Marketing team does very little work in the hospital!
Dr. Bharat Inder Singh a well known family physician in South Delhi and former colleague at Max Healthcare, once told me that the only marketing he knows is putting a board outside his clinic and start treating patients well. Things have moved on since.
I have learnt that while the hospital needs to quickly establish itself as a centre of excellence, the individual doctors are the most important element in the Marketing of a hospital. In the early phase of a hospital it is mostly the doctors who will draw new patients largely from the pool of patients they have treated earlier. While this may last as a steady stream for a few months, this stream of patients will never be adequate to sustain a new hospital. Thus doctors need to get involved in the Marketing of themselves. The Marketing team’s task is to create opportunities of engagement of these doctors with potential patients, referring doctors and increasingly HR managers in large corporates. In this post I will examine the role of the doctors and the medical teams in connecting with the referring physicians.
The success of this effort is largely based on how well this collaboration between a doctor and the Marketing team works.
A doctor, who has joined a new hospital needs to understand that it will take some time for the patients to start trickling in. I have known many a doctor who are extremely chary of going in the ‘field’ with the sales team. This is somehow considered to be infra-dig. They would much rather be in the hospital and wait for the patients to materialise. Some would rely on expensive advertising rather than ‘soiling their hands’ with the sales folks, asking for patient referrals.
Rarely has this approach succeeded in generating patient traffic.
Most successful doctors know that their is no shortcut to success. Customers today have choices and those who go out to engage with customers, the local populace and the referring doctors stand a much greater chance of building a thriving practice. They also know one simple truth…there is no shame in asking people to visit them if they need help or taking out a prominent local doctor for dinner to get to know him better and build a relationship, which will culminate in patient referrals.
Continuing Medcal Education (CME) programs generally a euphemism for an evening do, involving local physicians (or those of a particular speciality) are common. These provide a platform for a set of doctors usually from a hospital to engage with local outside doctors. In my experience these are necessary in the initial phases to introduce a set of hospital doctors to referring doctors. It is rare that on these occasions a relationship can be forged, which will culminate in patients for the hospital. The next stage of engagement is generally with a smaller group of doctors (10-12) over cocktails and dinner. Finally the sales team will get the hospital doctors to meet referring physicians one on one. It is of utmost importance that a relationship is established between the doctors themselves. Patient referrals follow automatically.
Once patient referrals start, the hospital doctors must keep the referring doctor in the loop. A thank you letter, a phone call informing of the patient’s progress can go a long way in cementing the budding relationship. The sales team’s role here is to ensure that nothing slips between the cracks and they usually facilitate the communication between the hospital doctors and the referring physicians.
Medical conferences, paper presentations, academic newsletters also help in establishing the hospital doctor’s credibility. It is important that the referring doctors be fully aware of the capabilities of the doctors they are refrring their patients to. The conferences also serve as a networking platform for all the doctors.
While all these help get patients for the first time, a doctor will start referring patients on a continuous basis only once he develops confidence in the doctor he is referring patients to. This can only happen when the medical outcomes are good, the patient has a great experience in the hospital and the communication channels between the referring and the referred doctors are working well. I have known of a hospital, where an orthopaedic surgeon and a laparoscopic GI surgeon will happily get patients from the referring doctors, while the cardiologists and the cardiac surgeons will endlessly struggle. The reasons for this were not far to seek. The medical outcomes in cardiology and cardiac surgery were not as good as those in other areas, the doctors hardly ever communicated and the reasons for poor outcomes were always swept under the carpet. I am afraid the situation in this hospital is unlikely to improve unless the core problem is acknowledged and fixed.
At the end of the day the sales team is just as good as the weakest link in the medical delivery team.