I recently read ‘Better’ by Dr. Atul Gawande. This is his second book after ‘Complications’, which I had read many years ago. Dr. Gawande is a staff member at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. He is also an Associate Professor of Surgery at the Harvard Medical School, Associate Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health, and Associate Director for the BWH Center for Surgery and Public Health. Dr. Gawande is also a staffer at the NewYorker Magazine.

‘Better’ is a rare and a wonderful book and I thorughly enjoyed it. ‘Better’ brings forth a great understanding of issues facing the medical fraternity today, the constant quest to do better, to improve the delivery of medicine and care as we know it today. I discovered the importance of hand washing and how this simple act on the part of caregivers in a hospital can avoid infection and save lives. I mean I do know that handwashing is important but had never given a second thought, while I marched into a patient’s room in any of the hospitals I worked in.   Continue reading

For a Hospital ‘Doing Good’ is Great

‘The business of Healthcare allows you to do good, and maybe also make money’, Analjit Singh, Chairman of Max Healthcare, once said this in my presence and since then I have never stopped wondering about how ‘doing good’ is just as much a part of healthcare business as is making money.

If one was to stop and ponder for a minute, one would realise that healthcare business allows one to do good from the day one starts a hospital, while the making of money takes time, sweat, blood and tears. ‘Doing Good’ to my mind is the soul of this business and anyone, who does not have this objective at the back of his mind may as well never get into this business. For as Mr. Singh would say ‘there are dozens of easier ways of making money, if that alone is the objective’.   Continue reading

Service Recovery and Word of Mouth Hospital Marketing

Goof ups in hospitals are always round the corner.

I dare suggest that quite often they are unavoidable. Do what you may, there will always be someone who will slip once in a while and you will have an irate customer. The headcount in a typical 300 bed tertiary care hospital in India can easily be 800 people or more. In spite of all the care in hiring the right set of people and putting them through rigorous training, they will still end up making mistakes.

Good hospitals, while trying to minimise errors also learn to accept them as inevitable and put in place systems, that help them handle difficult situations well. Great hospitals go one step further, they not only do excellent service recovery, they also ensure that the the patients leave the hospital with a positive frame of mind, in spite of the mishap.   Continue reading

Marketing Those Who Came Back

Step into a hospital anywhere in the western world and you are in all likelihood to run into an Indian doctor sooner than later. The medical education system in India churns out doctors in large numbers and many of them choose to go abroad for advanced training and skills enhancement. Many of these settle down in the new country, which is more than happy to welcome highly educated and skilled doctors to its shores. It works well for the doctors too, they learn new things, train in some of the finest institutions in the world and than are able to make a decent living in their adopted country.

This is the way it was till recently.

Now with India making rapid strides in healthcare and even attracting patients from across the globe, many of these doctors are choosing to return to India. They are able to find employment in the new high tech hospitals, which have sprung up in the last 8-10 years. The reasons for this are not far to seek. Indian hospitals can now easily be compared with any that they might have worked in earlier, in the west, the standard of care is often superior, the financial rewards far better than what they were a few years ago, and life in upmarket urban India quite comfortable. Moreover, India is home for many with responsibilities for aging parents. Some are also not comfortable with their children growing up seeped in the ubiquitous and consumerist western culture.

All this is great, except for the fact that some find going in India quite tough. The hospitals that employ the returning prodigals, soon realise that these doctors will take time to settle down and find their feet in the changed Indian environment. Having been away for years they do not have a bank of patients, who can start patronising the hospital. Often their salaries are more than those hired from other Indian hospitals and with no patient base to speak off, these doctors are immediately under pressure to justify their high salaries. They usually need urgent Marketing support.   Continue reading

To Hell with Raj Thackray

I landed in Mumbai this morning only to be greeted by the news of the arrest of Mr.Raj Thackray, late in the night. Fellow travellers on the flight from Delhi were talking in hushed tones about how Mumbai will come to a standstill, thanks to the thugs of Mr. Thackray running amuck.

Sure enough, as soon as I stepped out of the terminal, I noticed a strange kind of calm all around. There were hardly any cabbies jostling for fares and Mumbai seemed to be uncharacterstically orderly. After a while I was able to hail a cab, who agreed to take me to my destination albeit at a whooping Rs. 400. (the normal fare is Rs. 150)

‘Sir, all of us are scared of Mr. Thackray and his goons. Taking the taxis out is fraught with risk. You never know when someone starts pelting stones or worse set the cab afire’ said Ramnaresh, my taxi driver who as it turned out hails from Ballia in Eastern UP. With a start I realised that Ramnaresh is exactly the kind of guy Mr. Thackray and his cohorts are targetting.   Continue reading

Marketing of an Obesity Management Program

Obesity is fast becoming a global epidemic. While so far the disease has largely been limited to the developed world, it is now rapidly spreading its wings to countries like India, where increasing affluence and prosperity is driving huge lifestyle changes.

Obesity is a disease of the affluent. The link is easy to establish. The intake far exceeds the requirement. In Indians, latest research also indicates the presence of a gene, which converts excess food into fats and deposits it in the abdomen. Thus the normal paunchy Indian, (I dare say pretty much like me!) can blame his genes as well as his lifestyle for his ample girth.

Obesity has been recognised as the underlying cause of many a disease including diabetes, coronary heart disease, joint and spine related problems, and liver diseases. The fight against obesity is now becoming a huge challenge and is a great opportunity for healthcare services marketers.

Here is what they can do to win this battle.   Continue reading

Catch them Young: Healthcare Marketing to School Kids

Schools have become new battle grounds for all kinds of marketers pushing soaps, candies, cosmetics, toothpastes, music and a new exhilarating lifestyle to the youngsters. The schools view most of this as frivolous and wholly unnecessary and often resist it. Sometimes the marketing effort is cloaked in interesting events, which are entertaining and educative.  Schools allow these and healthcare marketers are able to reach out to school kids through School Health Quizes,  talks on diet, exercise, hygiene and healthy lifestyle habits.

Some may be wary of allowing healthcare marketers to reach out to school kids. Children are generally healthy, it is a carefree time and weighty matters like healthcare should really be no concern to them. I am not sure I agree with this line of thinking. I would have a kid grow up in an environment, which helps him make ‘healthier’ choices. As a kid I was taught the benefits of ‘early to bed and early to rise’. I still swear by it.

Healthcare Marketers can reach out to schools, with specially designed programs, which educate and inform about how healthy choices made early, allow for a healthier lifestyle later on. This should really be looked upon as an investment by the hospital in a long relationship. To expect instant monetary rewards from a school program is expecting the moon. Persistence is the key here.

Some of the engagement programs that hospitals can run with schools are highlighted here.   Continue reading

The Dentist, The Reader’s Digest and Colgate

The current issue of Reader’s Digest in India has a impressive looking (and if I may also add forbidding) dentist on its cover and a lead story about how a trip to a dentist can help predict all manner of disease. It is as if the dentist holds the key to deciphering all the medical problems that I may encounter in my life hereafter.

The story makes for strange reading.

Is this a surprise that a regular visit to a dentist may help detect oral cancers. I would be surprised if my dentist in today’s day and age ignored suspect looking patches in my mouth, which may later turnout to be cancerous.    Continue reading

When Things Go Wrong in a Hospital

Sudhir Sharma, 58  was wheeled into the operating room early in the morning for what looked like a routine bypass surgery. The surgeon Dr. Roop Singh met his worrying friends and relatives, reassured them that he does not anticipate any complications and hopefully he will be done in 4 hours. The doctor seemed to be in good spirits and quite confident of the outcome.  

The relatives and friends of Mr. Sharma repaired to the Subway joint in the hospital for a quick breakfast and the morning coffee. The mood was hopeful and upbeat.

Not known to them things in the OR had gone horribly wrong. As Mr. Sharma was being put on a heart lung machine, disaster struck. A terrible mistake was made. Mr. Sharma’s aorta was connected with the line supplying oxygen from the machine. The mistake was discovered immediately and the team tried to revive Mr. Sharma,  but by then it was too late. Everyone in the team was shattered and were in a state of shock. One small terrible mistake had cost Mr. Sharma his life.   Continue reading

Lessons in Healthcare Marketing Communication

Building healthcare brands is an arduous task. 

It takes enormous effort to get it all right. The mix of customer experiences at various hospital touchpoints, the look and the feel of the hospital, the people and of course the communication. No one goes to a hospital willingly or to enjoy a few days of well deserved rest. Neither is it a place, which attracts willing repeat customers. Customers in a hospital are necessarily driven by a misfortune, which involves something as precious as their or a loved ones health. A hospital visit is also usually fraught with risk. Fear and anxiety generally accompany a customer to the hospital.

Building brands by delivering great experiences to customers who are in this frame of mind is tough. Communicating with customers to influence their choice of a hospital in dire and difficult circumstances is often akin to walking a tight rope. The message runs the risk of being perceived as either too commercial (this hospital seems to be hoping that I fall sick and land at its doorsteps), too glib (it trivialise something as serious as my health and well being) or just too smart or plain dumb.

Here are some lessons that I learnt, while handling communications for large hospitals.   Continue reading