Healthcare providers everywhere struggle constantly with how to effectively establish their authority and brand with marketing, branding, advertising and public relations

There are laws and regulations in effect that prohibit or at the very least restrict physician advertising. Few physicians realize that even where there is no specific proscription against physician advertising, there are rules that must be followed when physicians market, publicize, or advertise their services. Part of the challenge arises because most physicians don’t know how to do this effectively, they don’t have staff who knows how, nor does anyone inside the practice have time to help out.

Marketing and Public Relations on the Cheap

Many physicians who have been working in medicine since the 1980s abdicated their marketing and advertising messages to the managed care plans that controlled the “steerage” to participating providers in their respective networks. This was never really marketing or advertising. Nor was it public relations and branding – until the health plans started publishing “gold stars” next to providers’ names. It merely steered potential market share to a list of “preferred” providers who offered an in-network, membership discount to plan subscribers. It influenced patients to choose “someone” listed and avoid those not listed. As a result, physician felt compelled to sign up and grant hefty discounts and agree to do other burdensome administrative tasks (like denials and appeals, preparing referrals, obtaining pre-authorizations, or certifying medical necessity, etc.) in exchange for being listed.

Physicians and other healthcare providers didn’t have to pay money for production, placement … or did they? One could (and should) argue that the whopping discount negotiated with health plan payers is certainly barter for what the health plan produces and places with media outlets. The problem is that what they say about you is not under your control, unless you reserve that right in your contract with them. In many cases, unless you are a premium established brand, that’s difficult to negotiate.

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More recently, HealthGrades and other listing services on the Internet (Yelp, ZocDoc, RateMDs and about 12 others) that enabled patients (and in some cases sneaky competitors) to post comments about services and experiences that further impact a healthcare supplier’ brand through user generated or what is referred to as “uncontrolled” information.  While physicians can claim their profiles for free on these 12-18 sites, most have not completed their photograph and profile to be found, and few have corrected inaccuracies that can actually cost them business or reviews that can blemish their brands.

Why Building a Premium Healthcare Brand is Important for Providers

Physicians with established premium brands tend to be paid 14-30% more for their services by consumers, health plans and insurers.
Healthcare providers with established premium brands can successfully negotiate 14-30% higher payment rates for their services and products than their unbranded competitors.

When a health plan can advertise that it has the premium branded clinics (Cleveland, Mayo, Johns Hopkins, MD Anderson, Bascom Palmer, etc.) on its panel of participating providers, they are banking on a “halo effect” and they negotiate higher reimbursement rates with those providers because of the brand image value associated with the preferred relationship. Sometimes those reimbursement rates are as much as 14-30% higher than what they pay Drs John and Jane Doe who have failed to build a brand and establish themselves as a premium, coveted brand to add to their network.

How to Establish Your Authority and Brand as a Healthcare Provider

To begin, you’ll need to develop a strategy for brand building and public relations. The easiest and least costly way to do this is to create content that can be shared with patients, the media, and prospective patients seeking a new provider in your specialty.  You build relevance by finding a way to converse much more frequently than when you have big news. Recently, I had a brief coaching session with one of my clients. I shared with him the following ideas on content creation.

Chat with patients

Ask patients a single question: “I’d like to ask you for  your input: What’s the one thing you would like to know more about if I were to write a blog?”  Then start writing in a conversational tone about the topics they want to read

Interviewing luminaries

He could find a thought leader, strategic partner, or interesting creative thinker and ask 5 questions. He could use the interview to create compelling text, audio, or video content on topics that are considered “hot” in podiatry, or that he gathered from the previous activity where he gathered input from patients.

Addressing industry news

He could share an opinion about a recent news story, new drug, treatment, health reform, or something else that’s affecting podiatry or his audience. By being timely, he could benefit from the extra boost of being one of the first to comment on the topic.

Going behind the scenes

He could explain or show things that his readers or followers don’t usually get to see. There’s intrigue behind every “Do Not Enter Without Authorization” sign. In medicine there are many of those signs. He could share photos that give an insider’s view of their clinics, your operating theater, your diagnostic testing equipment in use, or tease some new, compelling content or service that their practice will be launching soon.

Attending an event

To share content of interest to other physicians, he could share session notes, conduct interviews, or take photos. He could real-time blog or tweet the sessions that offer value to readers, and share with his audience what he learned, enjoyed, or that which surprised him as new information.

Sharing best practices or health and wellness tips

People are always looking for insight to improve themselves and this type of content is always highly useful and shareable.

Creating a regular content series

Typical blog posts are generally 400-900 words in length. If he has more to share, a themed series is a great way to help him create regular content by dividing a larger article into parts.

Dividing the Marketing Budget for Maximum Reach

Do ask each and every new patient how they found you. If most of your growth comes from referrals of other physicians, you need to build brand recognition and preference with those referring physicians. If much of your growth comes from word-of-mouth, social sharing, and patient referrals, the list above will connect you directly to your patients, professional referral sources, and their friends and followers.  If referrals come from Internet listing sites, you need to be listed on the 12-18 key directories that feature physician profiles and allow patients to post feedback and ratings on your services.

Don’t get in the routine of spending money on campaigns on expensive cable TV, radio spots, paid talk show mentions or endorsements, newspaper ad insertions, or big Yellow Pages display ads if you don’t know for sure that those channels can connect you to your existing patients or prospective patients and referral sources.  Yes, you should be listed in the Yellow Pages, but if most people in your community don’t use the printed book to find doctors anymore, why pay for a big ad in the book?

Don’t spend money on marketing, advertising, and campaigns if results cannot be measured.

Don’t waste money on hiring advertisers to “sell” your services to the public. People don’t usually respond well to being “sold” health services. This is especially true when it comes to medical tourism services. There is a difference between case management and coordination and  “selling” a provider’s service in return for a commission. Medical tourism facilitators should facilitate logistics and coordinate patient care to make it easier for the patient to go through the process of obtaining care away from home. Their value-added professional services should be paid for at fair market rate.

Too often, however, the medical tourism facilitator relationship is one of selling and the facilitators are paid sales commissions for the closed sales they generate. Some business models are actually listings and they charge for “clicks” or “referrals”, but even then, the ratio of successfully closed sales is very low. In truth, most of the people who have established medical tourism facilitator web-based businesses and listing directories to market the services of the hospitals and doctors they choose to represent don’t generate that many closed sales each month. Part of the reason that the model doesn’t work is because the doctors and hospitals have no real brand in the mind of the consumer. It is ludicrous to expect someone to travel far from home to seek treatment from Dr Jane or John Doe that nobody knows anything about, or be admitted to a General Hospital in a foreign land that has no real niche or reputation outside their local community? Yes, it happens, but without an established brand and some social connection to the provider, it is an extremely difficult “sell”.

How to best use public relations, advertising, and marketing consultants

Find creative specialists that specialize in healthcare marketing, branding, advertising and public relations.

Generalists can get you in trouble with regulators. The use of hyperbole and superlative “-est” words are frowned upon in healthcare marketing because it promises a vulnerable consumer outcomes and deliverable that may not be possible, or that exceed the standard of care of the community in which the services are delivered.

Claim or create a narrow category of service that you do well and focus on ways to establish authority in that category.

If possible create a new sub-category where you can claim first or only status in the community, the region, the state, a tri-state area, or something else. The objective for the creative expert you hire is to assist you to identify or create singularity. Singularity creates in the mind of the healthcare consumer the perception that there is no other product in the market quite like your product. It also acknowledges that no one brand has universal appeal, so don’t set unrealistic expectations about the effectiveness of your efforts. Measure your baseline before you begin and aim for 50% share of voice and market share. Aim for 3-8% increases in consultations, referrals, new patient growth per month, etc. Experts can help you perform the baseline measurements of new patient revenue value so that you can measure your incremental improvements and thus the return on investment in the marketing campaigns you decide to implement.

If you have questions about how blogs work, how people find them, and how to set up a branding and public relations strategy call me or Chelsea for some ideas. It would be our pleasure to chat with you for a few minutes and discuss if coaching, editing and/or our social media management services would be beneficial for you.