Advertising or information? Patients will decide.
A 2010 Harris poll reports that only one in five American adults say they trust that advertising is honest in its claims all or most of the time (19%).
Instead, about two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) say they trust that advertising is sometimes honest in its claims, while barely one in ten (13 percent) say that they never trust that advertising is honest in its claims.
What does all this mean to private medical practices? Plenty, when you focus on the issue of trust.
The poll’s finding about truth in advertising is probably news to no one, although it would be more interesting to conduct a more narrow poll about health care advertising. When it comes to their bodies, humans can be far more skeptical about commercial messages.
In the medical world, trust is the most valued commodity. How do patients pick doctors? Both a lot and also not very much like they make purchase selections of consumer products such as computers, automobiles, televisions or even lawn mowers.
Where are the doctors in Consumer Reports?
For these consumer goods, many buyers dive into objective reports and rankings online and in traditional media. The popularity of websites such as Amazon.com and CNET.com is owed hugely to product and customer reviews.
Even in the Internet age, Consumer Reports magazine flourishes because of its hardball product evaluations and no-advertising-accepted publishing policy.
Health care consumers aren’t so lucky. Consumer Reports has never conducted an objective evaluation of physicians by analyzing their patients’ outcomes from, say, laparoscopic cholecystectomies (gall bladder removal). No can do.
So when it comes to just how good a doctor is at his craft, patients are left with taking someone’s word for it –- either the doctor or some of the doctor’s other patients.
The power of a five-letter word
In short, it’s all about trust. Selecting a physician is largely a leap of….well, not exactly blind faith, but certainly sight-impaired faith. That’s why our philosophy is about earning trust not through advertising but through patient discovery.
Yes, we’re huge believers in public relations (defined as third-party endorsements) and online patient education. It’s what we do, after all. But it’s not that we believe in it because it’s what we do. Rather, we do it because we believe in it.
There’s a hot new phrase in marketing these days: “consumer-generated marketing” In health care, patient-generated marketing is all about letting the conversation be about the patient first and the doctor second. Advertising tends to be the other way around.
Deciding who starts the conversation
In the current economy and simultaneously trends toward cutting physician reimbursements, we’re seeing more and more physician and private-practice advertising. Our response: be careful. The best patients are not sheep waiting to be led to slaughter.
Instead, we say earn your customers’ trust rather than trying to buy it. You do this by first giving patients what they want, information about their health conditions and possible treatments.
In the end, patient-generated marketing is just as fast and a whole lot cheaper than doctor-driven advertising. And isn’t that a win-win?
About Vanguard Communications
Since 1994, Vanguard Communications has provided specialty healthcare marketing with a strategy focused on patient education guaranteed to bring new patients to specialist physicians, physician assistants, nurses and therapists in private, university and hospital practices. Through its MedMarketLink program, Vanguard combines the disciplines of online and offline PR, strategic marketing and information technology for healthcare providers coast to coast.