We are used to thinking about public hospitals as service centers led by the State to the benefit of the citizens and about private clinics as institutes specialized in one specific healthcare subject or another.
Ignazio Cassis, the national counselor, and doctor says that “in the past, it was common thought that every hospital, especially if public, had to work well and leave then to its customers the freedom to communicate the qualities of the facility to other potential users. With the new LAMal reform, introduced in 2012, public and private hospitals benefit from the same financing, thus they are experiencing a more direct competition than in the past. Quality, efficiency, and transparency have become imperatives to observe and to communicate to the users so that they can choose freely.
Marketing has, therefore, gained a more important role”.
In order to become acknowledged, sanitary facilities mostly rely on their “good name”, spread by patients satisfied with the received treatments. You will meet someone telling you that “a friend of mine was treated at her heart in a London clinic which is attended by high society”, someone else telling you that “her husband was operated at his prostate in a clinic based in Florida by an Indian
professor with great experience, the best in the world”.
From these statements, we can deduce at least two concepts. The first one is that the social level of the attendees gives value to the hospital. In other words, if rich people go there, it means that the facility is excellent.
Another concept concerns the level of excellence of the medical staff in the hospital. In Ticino, there is Aron Goldhirsch, one of the most well-known oncologists in the world and well respected by the whole scientific community. In other words, a “celebrity” that brings fame to the hospital where he works.
The brand strategy of a hospital is based on facts. An excellent facility (it never happened that a rich man was treated in a badly organized dump) and a high level trained staff. Basically, communication relies on patients that “speak well about the hospital”.
This is very clear. A good brand strategy is always based on a marketing strategy. In the health service, marketing services are concerned with studying constant innovations in order to contact people exactly when they need sanitary services.
In general, when a person suffers from a manifest pathology verified by his doctor or discovered through a prevention visit, he gets access to the most popular and accessible expert: “Dr. Internet”.
On the web, all operators have created their own space. It is necessary to diversify the offer. Two elements have been mentioned (reputation and expert medical staff), but there are other ones, among which the price of the services, related services such as hospitality, the relationship with insurance companies, specialization, the number of scientific publications, and the effectiveness of the treatments. The Internet offers everyone the opportunity to know.
In this matter, facts are relevant. Let’s stop for a minute. In this article, we are speaking about a normal marketing strategy that is adaptable to all businesses. Definition of the target, construction of a coherent offer, adequate price, coherence… But a hospital takes care of our health, which is not a consumer good. “It is wise not to fall in the trap of a romantic vision of the sanitary system”, suggests Ignazio Cassis. “Every citizen in Switzerland spends about 8,000 francs every year for medical treatments: this generates a market of 65 billion francs which employs more than 10% of the active population in Switzerland. This important economic situation does not leave much space to nostalgic visions of a charitable deed to the others”.
Hospitals offer a special kind of service. They must consider the target’s high sensitivity at the time in which they come in contact with the facility. Clinics often try to make healthy patients familiar with the theme (through prevention), in order to get them “ready” in the case they got in direct contact with the disease.
Positive experience (for example an excellent prevention visit) strengthens the reputation of the hospital and hence its brand.
If a hospital doesn’t have “a brand”, every action could seem to be too much business-oriented. In the healthcare sector, what seems to so annoy the patients. Patients do not want to be treated as customers. For this reason, it is important that in the health service the brand is stronger than the commercial offer so that the “negative” sides are covered and the commercial content is hidden
behind a process of “suggestions for patients and good practises”.
For example, “Dedicate yourself an afternoon for prevention” could be a clearly commercial slogan (come and visit us for a check-up) or a good friend’s suggestion (prevention is better than cure).
People have a good memory of facts that touch them on a personal level. For this reason, a hospital cannot draw upon campaigns that are shamelessly commercial: the audience would not forget the mistake.
As I have often written in this magazine, a brand must be managed. The owner must be able to handle its own reputation with care and perfection. In the commercial world the “rule of the three proofs” is well-known. 1) The item must be chosen for the excellence of the communication; 2) The item must be chosen on the point of sale; 3) The item must meet the customer’s tastes so that after the first consumption he will buy it again.
Let’s leave for a moment the fascinating debate on the role of communication (is communication substance or not?) and even that of the competition among brands (why is one better than another?).
Let’s concentrate on facts: the customer’s satisfaction.
The key to the success of health marketing lies in the comprehension of the client’s expectations, worries, aspirations, personality, behavior, and lifestyle. A good example is given by Flavio Nascè, Director of Commercial Development of Humanitas Clinical Institute in Milan. He states that “the marketing service of a hospital needs a strong brand, and a strong brand cannot be built without excellent services to the patient”. He adds: “Another aspect which in my view must be communicated is the continuity of the treatment. For example, in orthopedic, cardiologic, and neurosurgical fields, beyond the operation, we are able to offer to patients a complete rehabilitative path, from first rehabilitation soon after the operation to specific hospitalizations for cases that need a specialist recovery. This path is supported by a well-advanced physiotherapy department and a multidisciplinary approach to the patient”.