What are you “selling” to your patients?

What are you selling?

I found this short article from www.healthcaresuccess.com very interesting.

Comments Please


Every day we see a sign for “Oral Surgery” or read a healthcare advertising headline that begins with the physician’s or hospital’s name. Unfortunately for the marketing budget, it’s not advertising…it’s a failure to communicate. Whatever the intent, the medical marketing message missed its mark.

The fundamental truth here is that no one goes shopping to buy “a surgery,” or a medical treatment. People go shopping for some greater well-being for themselves. It sounds obvious, but it’s a common mistake in healthcare marketing for the physician practice, medical group, hospital or healthcare entity to want to advertise or promote what they do (urologic surgery, perhaps) or how they do it (robotic surgery, for example).

Although these things can play a part in a persuasive message, the prospective patient’s primary need—and the answer to the patient’s need—is understood in human terms, not medical terms. It is the result, not the means, which is most important to the prospective patient. People purchase healthcare services to realize one or more life-improvement benefits. The list includes pain relief, productivity, abilities, confidence, appearance, personal relationships and peace of mind.

In a word, what the patient is buying is happiness. It’s the one and only reason people buy healthcare.

Now ask yourself, what are you really selling? To find your marketing edge, your effective advertising message or the essence of your unique selling proposition (USP), look first to what the patient or customer wants to buy.

Translate the features (experienced practitioner, latest technology) into benefits (fast recovery, improved appearance). How will the prospective patient benefit, what are the tangible or intangible results that patients might realize, and how do you quantify these benefits?


  1. #1 by hein vandenbergh on February 21, 2011 - 10:43 pm

    ‘Selling happiness’ is not very professional: happiness resides in the individual spirit or soul. I sell – if this consumerist notion can be applied to a profession – my professional skills, my professional detachment so as to be able to give optimal, objctive advice. People do not ‘go shopping’ for these. Well, some do, but they have problems of a different kind……

    As to the last sentence in the article, one cannot guarantee ‘fast recovery’ or ‘improved appearance’ [the latter being in the eye of the beholder, the former being subjecty to the vagaries of biological imponderables], so one is at grave risk of falling foul of consumer legislation.

    It is an interesting concept, if one were selling fast food, but has no place in medicine, or any other professional service. We cannot let consumerism, the idea that everything can be ‘bought’, invade our professional life. I am paid for my knowledge and advice, not for a consumer item. I find it a bit sleazy, really. Sorry about that, Ian.

  2. #2 by Ian Katz on February 21, 2011 - 10:47 pm

    I disagree, Hein. Patients do go to you because of their needs. Sometimes you have to dig deeper to find out exactly why they have come to see you. I find that article very relevant.

  3. #3 by hein vandenbergh on February 22, 2011 - 6:56 am

    Yeah, I see your point, Ian, but as a professional – if ‘professional’ still has any value or meaning in the 21st century – I have great reservations about it. It may be snobby, but a profession is intrinsically very different from e.g. selling a certain type of snackfood. Why is it that all sorts of ‘non-professions’ are so keen to call themselves member of a profession? Purveyors of financial products, preferably with large trailing-commissions, spring to mind.

    Also, with changes in technology, fashion etc etc logically one would need to re-brand or re-invent oneself every few years. The physios have done this over the past decade, and guess what? They all have logos which are virtually indistinguishable, they all ‘move for life’ or some-such, and they have all lost market-share to other ‘fashions’ in physical therapeutics – and now their services are to a large extent subsidised by Medicare, through the bureaucratic nightmare of care plans……..

    Be all that as it may, i still am of the opinion that the translation of personal characteristics [experience, latest technolgy] into fast recovery or improved appearance is fraught with consumer-legislation danger. Biology is not like that. My car gets a tune-up by being plugged into a wall-socket and a large computer in Rennes, France, does the work, re-sets the transmission change-up points etc etc. It works because mine is like a million others, to the last nut and bolt [colour being the only difference]. Human beans ain’t like that.

    However, making sure that people know that we promote health and rather see them before they are sick and ‘need the doctor’ is another thing altogether. Happiness without health is, on WHO criteria, a non-sequitur. My role is promoting health, not selling happiness, as that is not a claim one can ever fully or predictably live-up to.

    Being professional also implies – and people know it – that one IS up-to-date and strives for optimal outcomes in a cost-effective manner.

    The article, agreed, IS relevant – if only to allow us to contemplate which traps to NOT fall into.

    Reactionary bugger, aren’t I?

    BTW, what do you sell to my patients? Your expert professionalsim as professionally evaluated by me: Joe Public has not the ability to do that, and – with the excepetion of maybe a population sub-group which I’d rather not treat – would look askance at active promotion by Southern Sun of any other claim you were to make. “Why do you not send this to DHM, Dr?” “Because Dr Katz specialises in skin-pathology and is professionally more approachable than a faceless person in an impersonal mega-corporation”. They appreciate that, and it commands great respect. A lot more than me saying: “He prefers bulk-billing, which may make you happier”. In fact, a lot ask me: “I have not received an account, where can I pay?” If I say that you find it more efficient to bulkbill, the reply usually is: “I do not mind paying at all for a reliable opinion such as you explained”.

  4. #4 by Dr Ian Katz on February 22, 2011 - 7:51 am

    You’ve probably heard the story of the man who goes to buy a drill, but he is not really looking to buy a drill but a hole…….

    I think I sell “peace of mind” – that’s what most people’s basic need is, I think. If I can convey that to most people, I will be happy.

  5. #5 by Dr Ian Katz on February 22, 2011 - 7:54 am

    Also I dont think the bit about being a professional is that relevant. Again the what does the lawyer really sell.

    The problem comes with commoditization of services – we have all become commdodities and it is really difficult to distinguish one from another

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