Patient Relations

Treating patients as customers


According to Fred Joyal, who is one of the world’s leading experts on dental marketing and author of “Everything Is Marketing,” 81% of patients come to you by word-of-mouth referral. On the downside, 85% of your patients will leave you for what they perceive is a bad experience. And whilst this study was conducted in America, our own qualitative research for clients in the UAE has a similar conclusion; that a recommendation from friends and family is the biggest driver for new patients.

This might not be so surprising, and its why 3rd party endorsement is the holy grail for modern marketers. Yet in many hospitals, clinics and practices a positive patient experience, which is the catalyst for a recommendation, is the responsibility of the operations department who have KPIs that centre on efficiency – such as reducing waiting times. But healthcare now exists in a ‘buyers market’ and if healthcare institutions, whether they be major hospitals or specialised clinics, want to compete amongst increased competition (especially privatised competition) the patient experience needs to be considered beyond the bricks and mortar of the respective clinic.

To understand why everything about healthcare is marketing, as Joyal suggests, you need a new definition for marketing. In reality, “marketing” is anything and everything you do to attract, engage, retain or motivate patients and it encompasses everything that in any way impacts the patient experience, at any touch point, for better or for worse. And therefore, everyone within your healthcare organisation is ‘in’ marketing. This includes doctors through to cleaners.

Let’s consider patients as customers and start thinking about hospitals and clinics as brands, then we can start to think differently about what constitutes a ‘customer experience’ and offer relevant services that introduce a more unique and holistic experience, fostering a longer term relationship and enhancing overall brand value.

An appropriate place to start is with first impressions. Besides treating pathologies, it is of the highest importance to provide patients with comfort and reassurance as well as clean, hygienic surroundings where the risk of hospital acquired infections is minimized. At the same time visitors and accompanying family members are often more stressed or anxious than the patient. So likewise, they have to be treated with care and educated to ensure awareness upon entering and leaving the premises.

In-house experience

You may think that this is well beyond the remit of marketing but consider for a moment, if you will, that a patient spends only 25% of their time undergoing medical treatment, so the remaining 75% of their inhouse experience consists of non-core activities that fall directly or indirectly under the responsibility of a facilities management team. It is thus very important that nonclinical workforce is motivated, efficient and effective because their productivity is a key driver of patient satisfaction. This is why the future of non-core services goes beyond the operational department and the importance of employee engagement will ensure they create a warm, caring and hygienic environment that contributes to a better hospital performance and patient experience.

To do so, the facilities manager’s role is to understand and share the challenges faced by the healthcare establishment and to understand the brand reputation it has, as indicated by marketing. The establishment is then able to meet and operate above a certain level of expectation, staff will understand how to communicate with customers and understand what affects their opinions.

Likewise, doctors need to operate under similar parameters and just as a car is the product in a showroom, doctors are the product in a hospital. So in the same way, doctors need to be part of the marketing strategy and create a more public profile that communicates experience, knowledge and trust on behalf of the hospital. Essentially, creating enough visibility to become someone recognised for a specific skill-set.

In this regard, social media is the perfect platform and today it should feature in any marketing strategy thanks to its ability to create 3rd party endorsement and word-of-mouth recommendations, without showing any pretence or ulterior motive.

Through social media, doctors can become the brand ambassadors and face for the bricks and mortar of the healthcare establishment – connecting on a more personal and emotive level with customers or potential customers.

Social media also has many other advantages – firstly it can engage a whole community under the umbrella of a common cause, especially when a healthcare provider is rolling out a Corporate Social Responsibility-based campaign, which they frequently do. Furthermore, customers are frequently turning to social media for advice, rather than Google. For example, a facebook group for new mothers in Dubai is consistently sharing health-based advice for babies and any questions are answered somewhere by someone immediately. ‘TriDubai’ has an equally active page and athletes use it to source the best treatment and clinics for specific injuries. So it is forums and groups like these where doctors need to be present, personal and offer impartial advice to build up a level of trust amongst the community.

Likewise, new-media, especially in the case of mobile marketing, allows doctors and their healthcare practices to provide an added-value service such as appointment time reminders, prescription updates and even minutes of the original appointment and suggestions of next steps.

In this way, healthcare is not too different from any other industry. Patients, just as customers, have a certain path to purchase and will be influenced by specific touch points and attracted by unique services that differentiate a hospital or clinic from its competition. This means hospitals need to engage with potential patients before they have considered or even need treatment. In turn a healthcare practice must have a brand essence and patient experience for which it becomes externally known.

Hence, every experience inside or outside a hospital affects opinion and it’s the public opinion that is controlled by marketing, not the operations department, which they should surely welcome if it means delegating the role of reducing waiting times!

The author

Penny Couchman is the Group Director for da Vinci marketing.

Date of upload: 22nd Jan 2013


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