In my parents’ day, doctors didn’t advertise. They didn’t need to. If you just moved into a town, you’d ask your neighbor, the Realtor or a co-worker whom to use for a general practitioner and that was that. If you needed a specialist, the GP would refer you. This was before “Managed care” and specialists for everything. Before direct to the consumer drug ads that told us to “ask our doctor” about problems we didn’t know we had (or could have). And it was before doctors had to invest in new and expensive technology that needed to be paid for by “customers” – instead of patients.
Some doctors have adapted to the new market economy, specializing and differentiating their service, branding it and building a business that proactively positions their business in the minds of consumers so when the time comes- they are likely to get the call. Others have let their affiliated hospitals take over the responsibility of bringing patients to them through negotiated provider status with health insurance companies. What was once a class of independent entrepreneurs who sold their many years of education and considerable skill for a deserved premium have now become mere cogs in a multi-billion dollar machine called the “Health Care Industry.”
What was once a high touch service is now delivered with assembly line style treatment with interchangeable personnel.
As physicians have felt the squeeze placed on them by the insurance industry, the provider groups and of course the threat of considerable legal threats should anything go wrong, they have been forced to become businessmen first and doctors second. Some have given up on high-risk specialties, others have focused on certain profitable segments of the market- doing only elective surgeries that are paid for without the interference of insurers. Others have left the mainstream, creating boutique practices that either self-insure or are just plain old cash on delivery of services.
Some areas that seem to be getting the most attention: plastic surgery, laser hair removal, sports medicine and bariatric (weight loss) surgery.
Already one area has become a wasteland- Lasik eye surgery. With ophthalmologists advertising $299 an eye and spending hundreds of thousands to promote the low price- they have effectively barred others from entering the arena by sucking the margin out.
As someone who already has a phobia about anything touching my eyes, the idea of some low budget operation scares the living daylights out of me, but then again- I can still see without my glasses.
There have been “canned” ad campaigns available from “specialty” agencies that will provide a look and feel in a protected area for each specialization. Chiropractors have been buying into these campaigns for years. Other options include becoming part of yet another network- where ad buys are pooled across many physicians- these are mostly being coordinated by the manufacturers of specialized medical equipment. Buy our laser bone-o-scope and we will advertise for you to drive demand for the bone-o-scopopy that they didn’t know they needed.
Even though doctors are highly educated and mostly computer literate, many have opted for generic templated websites provided by companies who promise to provide a one-size-fits-all portal for their practice. While a doctor may feel good knowing that if someone comes to their practice website and wants to look up what gout is- they will get an answer- this isn’t anything that will drive people to their practice or build a relationship with the physician. It may save the doctor from having to do anything to manage “their” website- but it doesn’t do what a site can do best- which is build a relationship.
In this new day of medical marketing- the patient choices between physicians has become complex and maddening. With the ability to search online- and to access huge databases of doctors that are available through the patients insurance coverage- the question becomes who is right for me? Who can I feel comfortable with- and this is where most medical marketing solutions have gone terribly wrong. Instead of focusing on presenting the physician as a person- they’ve been relegated to bystander by these generic template sites or campaigns from the “specialists.”
To break out of the mold- and to truly reap the benefits of medical office marketing what is needed is more personal, informal one-to-one plain talk that gives the patient confidence that not only do you know your medicine, but that you have the people skills that make the difference between you and your competition.

What do you think?