Why do Hospitals need to invest more in Advertising?

Hospitals in India hardly advertise. Most of them look at advertising as an unnecessary expense and keep it minimal. This really need not be so. Looked from another angle, advertising for a hospital can be a critical investment, which allows it to differentiate its services, educate customers about its core beliefs, introduce new products and services and help gain new customers. Unfortunately, in India hospitals believe that customers do not appreciate hospital advertising and may even be put off by it. Many hospitals, who are doing well do not see the need for advertising. With occupancy rates high, the hospitals feel they are wasting money by advertising. Little do they realise that advertising quite often is not only about getting more patients.

To make matters worse, whatever little advertising one sees is mostly inane and dull. The communication usually bears the imprint of too many cooks adding different flavours to the advertising, making it a weird medley of pictures, long copy and a strange layouts. The marketing teams in the hospital are forced to accommodate various view opinions (that of the hospital COO/CEO, the heads of medical departments, other leading physicians, the sales head,  and sometimes the owner of the hospital ) to arrive at a piece of communication, which is usually a disaster from a marketing communications point of view. While, this piece assuaged inflated egos, ensures gory pictures (usually reflecting some landmark surgery) in the ads, highlights achievements of some or the other doctors, it fails in its primary purpose of connecting with the end-user.

Here are a few reasons, why hospitals should look at their advertising a lot more seriously and spend money wisely in connecting with their customers.

Core Beliefs and Positioning

A hospital must advertise its core beliefs through a well thought of brand campaign. It is imperative for customers to know what their hospital stands for, what its core values are and how does it strive to stay true to those beliefs. Thus, if a hospital professes to provide ‘Total Patient Care’as a consumer I would love to know, what it means and what all can I expect from the hospital. Similarly if a hospital is positioned as a ”cutting edge technology” centre I would like to know what that means to me as a customer. A hospital must stand for something in the consumer’s mind. I am not sure, our big hospital brands Apollo, Fortis, Max and Wockhardt (now part of Fortis) have been able to establish any kind of distinct identity in the consumer’s mind.

Products and Services

A hospital offers a multitude of services. Customers need to know about them and hence advertising is a good way of keeping customers informed. New services keep getting added from time to time and the hospitals need to keep their customers updated. Recently Max Healthcare started its cancer services. All that they did was release a solitary advertisement, welcoming the new Chairman of Cancer services!!! The ad was also supposed to serve the purpose of informing the customers about the commencement of cancer care services at the hospital. Wouldn’t it make greater sense to announce the commencement of a service with a nice campaign and if needed also feature the medical leader/team in the ads?

Hospital Launch

A new hospital commencing operations needs high decibel advertising. Artemis did this well, when we launched the hospital. We had large bill boards in Gurgaon, a fairly heavy presence in the local print media and local community engagement through ‘fam visits’ to the hospital. I recall Max Healthcare during their launch also did a fairly well orchestrated multi-media campaign. However, many hospitals too try to save money by launching quietly and hoping the customers will come through the word of mouth or through doctors pulling in their existing customers. I believe, these are sub-optimal ways of launching the hospital’s services and an old-fashioned media blitzkrieg works the best.

Renewing Existing Services

Sometimes it is necessary that a hospital ‘renew’ its existing services. These days, I am seeing some bill boards near my residence advertising Apollo’s new Knee Clinic. The communication is targeted at the elderly, informs about the new Knee Clinic, which offers Knee Replacement services at the hospital. Now, Apollo hospital has been doing knees for a long time, however the communication is trying to repackage the service and relaunch it. Unfortunately, There are just two bill boards and, while the intent is laudable, the hospital is being very stingy. Similarly, while in Bangalore recently I came across a ‘Short Stay Surgery’ campaign by Wockhardt Hospitals. Again the effort seems to be to reposition their Laparoscopic Surgery services in a customer friendly matrix, but the money behind the campaign appeared too little to make any significant impact. Other hospitals too need to often ‘renew’ and repackage their services smartly.

Driving Traffic

Hospitals can drive traffic to their OPD’s through innovative offers. In fact the bulk of hospital advertising today focuses here. A free Cardiac Camp around the World Heart Day is routine. Similar camps and offers in other specialities help drive traffic to the hospital OPD’s. The problem here is that hospitals do these sporadically, without adequate planning and often as band-aid solutions to transient OPD traffic related issues. Tactical campaigns need to be more consistent and better planned to yield optimal results.

Educating Customers

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a hospital did an educational campaign about let us say heart disease or diabetes or any other lifestyle diseases. The campaign should aim to educate customers about the disease, its symptoms, treatment options, success rates, technology available and the medical expertise available to treat the disease. The objective should be to inform the customers, help them ask the right questions and thus make the right choices. Unfortunately, none of our hospitals including the big chains are willing to invest in patient education simply because the returns are relatively long-term.

Pic is indicative.

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Indian Hospitals Need New Online Initiatives

HIS_boxWebsites of Indian hospitals are hardly something to write home about. They are mostly poorly done, difficult to navigate and usually the information lies buried so deep that it tests ones patience to get the relevant information . The other day, it took me close to 20 minutes and numerous clicks to locate the address of a hospital from its website. I needed the address to send a Diwali card to a friend who works at the hospital and try as I might, I just did not seem to find the address of the hospital.

Almost all of the hospital websites that I am familiar with are largely static. Thus, they do not interact with patients or caregivers looking for specific information. They do not allow one to book appointments, download reports, interact with doctors taking care of ones loved ones, send good wishes or chat with the patients. They do not support e-commerce. Thus if I was an NRI living abroad and wanted to buy my parents an annual health check or if I wanted to pay their hospital bills on line, I just can not.

In the era of burgeoning medical travel and with Indian hospitals attracting a sizable chunk of patients from all over the world, this does seem strange. For some unfathomable reason, Indian hospitals have not invested too much on their websites or for that matter on online marketing per se. I believe it is high team someone woke up and used the net better.   Continue reading

National Emergency Services-The Need of the Hour

Emergency ServicesThe other day I was at the Delhi airport early in the morning waiting for the security check to get over, when I realised there was some commotion ahead in the queue. As I moved on, I saw a man flat on his back, and a lady, apparently an air hostess trying to revive him by administering the CPR. There were a bunch of people including some security men looking on. The lady was doing her best, but it was quite apparent that she would not succeed. She appeared to be going through the motions rather than making a desperate attempt to save a life.There was no one else to help her, while many watched idly. I did not see any medical personnel or the emergency medical paraphernalia, that one would expect  on such an occasion. The man had been without a pulse for almost 20 minutes, before CPR had commenced.

How can a busy airport (brand new to boot) be without adequate medical emergency back-up? Almost a year ago when I was working for Artemis, we had proposed to the authorities to allow us to set up an emergency service at the airport. Artemis is reasonably close to the airport, has an Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) equipped ambulance service and the hospital is fully geared to manage medical emergencies round the clock. Nothing came of our proposal and the last we heard was that Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals has been awarded the contract to manage the medical room at the airport. Apollo Hospital is all of 40 kms or more from the airport and with the traffic that one usually encounters on the way, there is no way that an ambulance can reach the hospital in less than an hour. That fateful day, there was no one for at least 30 minutes from Apollo or anywhere else, to help the unfortunate man.

India attracts scores of patients from across the world, most of them benefit from the world class healthcare services now available in the country yet we do not have an emergency service that can be remotely called world class. This is a serious concern.

The government must take the lead in establishing a centralised medical emergency service through a statutory body, let us say, Medical Emergency Services Authority of India. It can work out the details of how this service will operate, the nodal hospitals, the communication infrastructure and the logistics of transporting patients to these network hospitals. It should set clear guidelines on managing emergencies (who, what, where, how),  establish internationally benchmarked service levels and establish a monitoring authority to measure efficiency and service levels

The Medical Emergency Services Authority should be allowed to set up emergency handling outlets in high traffic areas like airports, on national highways and busy malls etc. The Authority would be required to invest in the communications and transport infrastructure including paramedical personnel, while the participating/network hospitals will be responsible for patient’s care once the patient reaches the hospital.

While all this and more is possible, the key question is whether we should have private participation in something like this. I believe we should not. This is a service that should be rendered by the government to its citizens in distress. It should be paid for by the taxpayers. The government can charge a small sum from the taxpayers annually to keep the service afloat. The real challenge for the government would be to maintain high standards in the face of crippling bureaucratic controls that underlie all government initiatives. Corruption, sloth and inefficiency so characteristic of all government organisations must not be allowed to eat at the vitals of this service.

Easier said than done. Maybe the government can find another Nandan Nilekani or an E Sridharan and give him a free hand to set this up. I would like to believe if there is a will and a burning desire to accomplish something as important as setting up the National Emergency Services a way can certainly be found. It is afterall the need of the hour.

Pic courtesy http://www.flickr.com

CT scan at Rs. 1500!!!

CT LungOn May 31st, which happened to be the World No Tobacco Day, I was holidaying in Kashmir, when I received a strange sms. Since I had decided not to carry my mobile phone on my vacation, I saw it only once I returned to Delhi.

The message, which I reproduce verbatim said ‘On the occasion of the World No Tobacco Day Artemis offers Lung CT at Rs. 1500 only. Offer valid only for My 31 2009 only. For registrations, please call’.

Needless to say that I was quite shocked. This is exactly the kind of lazy and insensitive marketing communication that puts off consumers from hospitals and makes them extremely suspicious of hospital communications.   Continue reading

Pricing Healthcare Services

healthcare-pricingThe pricing of services in a hospital is perhaps one of the most complex and difficult exercise undertaken by the hospital managers. Pricing is  usually a Marketing function in most industries and the final call would usually rest with the Marketing chief. However, in hospitals this seldom happens. Pricing issues are generally discussed and debated in the executive committees and the leadership teams, views are sought from senior medical leaders and usually a consensus is arrived at. l,

Many hospitals follow a ‘market based’ pricing model, which simply means they comb through the pricing policies of their competitors, get pricing data from various labs and other diagnostic centres through their referral sales teams and establish their pricing either basis a premium or a discount from their chosen competitors.

Very few hospitals have a ‘cost plus’ pricing system. Developing an accurate costing of all medical procedures is next to impossible. This is simply because the medical consumables used vary from doctor to doctor and also depend on the complexity, age and general condition of the patient. The cost is also invariably a function of the training and competence of the concerned doctors and medical staff attending on the patient. Thus the cost of a bypass surgery may vary dramatically depending on the condition of the patient, the competence of the surgeon and his team and co-morbidities like diabetes.

The calculation of a price is usually based on a ‘surgeon’s fee’. On top of this is added the cost of anaesthetic gases, the anesthetist’s fee, an OT fee and OT consumables. The surgeon’s fee is usually checked with the hospital’s surgeons and if it is Rs. X, the fee for surgery inclusive of gases, anaesthetist’s fee and the OT charges usually adds up to Rs. 2X. 

The patient on top of this is charged room rent depending on his choice of the hospital room, the cost of medicines and room/ward consumables and all diagnostics. The hospital also charges exorbitant consultant’s visiting fee every time he/she visits a patient in the hospital. (Some hospitals like Artemis cap this to a maximum of two chargeable visits). Strangely all hospitals charge a premium on all services if a patient chooses a single or higher category rooms. This simply means that if one opts for a single room one pays higher for everything, the surgeons fee, the cost of surgery and diagnostic tests. Most people do not know this and believe that the hospitals charge a premium only on room rent. Many would consider this a pernicious practice simply because a surgeon’s skill and time, which are the determinants of his fee has nothing to do with the room category a patient is in.   Continue reading

The PR Story

newspaper-storiesAs I wearily settled into the cramped seat of a Spicejet flight to Mumbai this morning, I pulled out the Metro Nation a tabloid format newspaper and started flipping through the pages. Suddenly an image of my former colleague Dr. Deep Goel, the head of Laparoscopic and Bariatric Surgery at Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon caught my attention. Dr. Goel was featured in the story along with a 200 kg Canadian patient, whom he had successfully operated upon (performing sleeve gastrectomy) and discharged from the hospital with in 24 hours. The story albeit poorly written (the journalist appears to be totally ignorant about medicine, medical procedures, surgeries et al), did manage to inform the readers about Dr. Goel’s superlative skills and about the Bariatric Surgery at Artemis.

Last week I had come across the story of a successful heart transplant in Chennai, when the donor was in Bangalore a team of surgeons from Chennai successfully harvested a heart in Bangaloreand transplanted it in a policeman in Chennai. Stories about Pakistani children being successfully treated for congenital heart diseases at Narayan Hridyalaya in Bangalore and undergoing liver transplants at Apollo Hospital in Delhi have routinely appeared in national media. Celebrities being treated at Leelawati and Breach Candy hospitals in Mumbai are also commonplace.   Continue reading

Driving OPD’s

opd

Outpatient Department or the OPD is critical in the marketing of a hospital. It is the OPD, which drives the admissions in the hospital and the diagnostics including the pathology and imaging. It keeps the doctors busy and the hospital buzzing. The success of various Marketing activities is usually measured by the number of incremental patients who walk through the hospital doors during the promotion.

Here are some ideas on driving the OPD volumes.

Marketing Promotions

I know, many people believe that for a hospital to be involved in Marketing promotions is a strict no no. Offers like free consults and 30% off on all diagnostics somehow seems too much like a ‘Sale’ at the neighbourhood supermarket. However, the truth is that promotions work. Many people like to avail of the promotional offers, walk into the hospital to see a doctor for a long ignored niggling problem and many like to avail themselves of a discount on a CT or MR. The trick here is not to overdo it and to ensure that the communication is not overtly commercial or over the top. I would reckon 4 big promotions a year, (one a quarter) would be fine.   Continue reading