What Is Health Care Marketing?

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Health care marketing facilitates relationships among hospitals and physicians as well as between medical centers and patients. As with any type of marketing plan, health care marketing utilizes a variety of advertising, branding and promotional tactics to interact with the community, build trust, display expertise and, ultimately, gain new patients. In addition to patient acquisition, many hospitals and private medical centers spend a portion of the marketing budget creating relationships and awareness among health-related associations and local physicians because new hospital business comes from both marketing and physician referrals.


Medical costs have been on the rise since the 1980s, and since the early 2000s the amount spent on health care marketing and communications has doubled. According to a survey by the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD), "in 2009, the budgets ranged from an average of $1.3 million for independent hospitals to $5.8 million for large health systems." Increased medical provider competition and a surge in medical attention have contributed to an increased focus on health care marketing.


Health care marketers execute both offline and online advertising and branding tactics in hopes that the hospital will gain first choice standing among current and future patients. Traditional marketing channels include print advertising, direct mail, brochures, newsletters, outdoor and radio while online modes of communication involve multimedia campaigns that consist of web design, online marketing, search engine marketing and social media marketing. Aside from these marketing tactics, word-of-mouth and internal referrals are an integral source of new business for hospitals and medical centers.


Critics of health care marketing state that hospital marketing drives up the cost of health care and say that medical centers should spend the money on patient care instead. With the plethora of medical choices that advances in technology provide, however, proponents of health care marketing refute this notion and insist hospital marketing empowers patients and is necessary in "the face of increasing competition and is geared to educating patients and physicians about the hospital's quality and services."


Before the advent of the Internet, many medical provider decisions were based on geographical considerations and referrals. In the late 2000s hospitals began advertising specialties, partnerships and advancements through social media and online portals as well as mobile devices. Hospitals have essentially evolved into unique brands accessible worldwide with their own marketing needs and consumer acquisition goals. According to Ned Russell, managing director for Saatchi and Saatchi Wellness, hospitals "need to attract talent and get funding. How do they do that? By increasing their patient base. How do they lure patients? Their advertising. Doesn't seem to matter these days how far away a patient is."


Health care marketing has evolved as a result of advanced digital marketing strategies. In 2010, marketers predict most hospitals will employ location-based Internet search engine optimization tactics for the next decade. The popularity of smartphones and mobile marketing will continue to rise in 2010 and beyond, with many hospitals and medical centers promoting services via health care-specific phone apps.