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Healthcare Marketing Has a Sick Day

Call your local doctor to book a checkup. And it starts.... The voice mail, the long wait to talk to a human, and the long wait for an appointment. It could be more challenging, but we are not sure how. Medical offices are understaffed, overworked, and stretched thin. COVID, anti-vaxers, and all kinds of illness have pushed the medical system to a breaking point. But the crisis I want to address is another one: the crisis of marketing.


The healthcare system spends a great deal on marketing each year.


A recent survey of the hospital industry in the United States found that the sector spent 5.6 million on advertising in 2021. Compare that to U.S. health care spending in 2021, topping the world at $4.3 trillion or $12,914 per person.


So, all those ads, mailers, newsletter, websites, and fancy logos are a tiny percentage of what healthcare costs Americans. Yet, from a marketing perspective, things did not get better for Americans. In 2022, the typical patient must wait 20.6 days to see a physician, The average appointment wait time for a doctor's visit has increased 8% since the survey was last conducted in 2017. Not great…How do we know this? Well, 77% of Americans use Google to answer their health problems. As George Bernard Shaw put it: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”


Who knows how long we wait on the phone, or even in the clinic? The response has been to automate — answering services, apps — voicemail. This is to save time, but by disconnecting the humanity of healthcare service, you can easily get lost. Or not called back, or called back by the wrong professional. It adds time and barriers.


Let's face it, healthcare is in trouble-losing people and driving escalating costs. You could argue it is not sustainable — and certainly not healthy.


And in the most of this you have money being tossed at new names, logos, buildings and signs. The irony is to visit a medical facility and see the sea of mismatched paper signs over the expanse and older designer one. It is often a yard-sale effect.


Like so many things, healthcare marketing has lost its way, and the first step to health has to be admitting that there is a problem. Not simply insane costs, incomparable billing, or lack of result, no the real canary in the coal mine is communication. Seriously, how many emails and texts do you need to remind someone of an appointment?


Funny thing, that people respond better to humans than texts and emails. That concept of service starts with listening, anticipating and asking the right questions. Service means resolving problems, and rebuilding confidence in an ailing system. Trust is the issue here- and Americans have lost trust in the system. Does building cost as much as a new MRI machine, probably not, but it gets at the basis of what makes any business successful. Basically, the system has focused on costs, not experience or service. As a result costs have not gone down, and service has become awful.


The thing here is that by investing in service and outcomes medical organizations cannot only distinguish themselves, but have competitive advantage. That seems logical. But the upside-down logic of healthcare means that patient trust comes after image and costs.


CNN reported that a recent study found that the American “health system can seem designed to discourage people from using services.”


Good communication has to be consumer friendly, one that is aimed at the patient — and can’t be focused on the healthcare provider. In health, with automation and red tape communication makes that patient experience inaccessible, condescending and limits feedback. Direct, honest communication will not simply improve the experience, it can save lives. Humans can listen and offer input. But to get there we need to find and remove communication barriers and develop new communications systems that strengthen and expand the continuum of care.




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