Physician Marketing: Connectivity the Key to Compliance

July 6, 2011

For medicine to evolve we have to start believing and accepting in the notion that as providers, we are marketers. Of course we are, we are servicing our patients and in order to serve them better (and ourselves actually), we need to start thinking like marketers.

I graduated medical school 11 years ago. But I don’t think in the past 11 years, the medical education system has evolved much. Sure there are updates about new drugs and surgical techniques. Yes, there is more emphasis on evidence-based medicine. There have been lots of breakthroughs and focus on the science of medicine.

But for medicine to evolve we have to start believing and accepting in the notion that as providers, we are marketers. Of course we are, we are servicing our patients and in order to serve them better (and ourselves actually), we need to start thinking like marketers.

Let me make a distinction here. Marketers are not the same thing as used-car salesmen. Yes, used-car salesmen can be marketers, but the reverse is not true: all marketers are not used-car salesmen. We have been held back from this notion of marketing because we are afraid of being "salesy" and sounding like used-car salesmen. But we need to move past this paradigm, because in order to sell our service to our patients more effectively, we need to learn how to connect with our patients better.

I think we all have the notion: “If my patients followed my advice, then they would do so much better!” If we expand this on a larger scale than what we are really saying is that many of the disease processes and chronic health problems are the result of non-compliance.

“Mr. Jones, your blood pressure is still high. Are you taking your medicine? Are you exercising? Are you eating well?” the doctor asked.

“Yes, of course.” Mr. Jones replied.

We have all been taught the science. We stay up to date on the latest new medicines and protocol recommendations. But we get frustrated all the time with patients not following our advice. And as we look at medicine as a whole, we have to ask ourselves, are we really doing much to decrease heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.? A shocking statistic I read recently was that there are more people with autoimmune disease than cancer and heart disease COMBINED. Yikes, something does not add up.

We spend time discussing how the medicines work, we go over and over again why each patient should take this medicine or that medicine. We are informing our patients. We are providing the information they need so that they can be healthier.

I think the problem here is that we have no clue about how to market our ideas, how to effectively communicate with our patients and how to convey our knowledge in a meaningful manner. This is mainly the result of focusing on just the science; we have very little understanding of what it takes to communicate effectively. Did you learn these things in med school or residency?

I encourage you to read a great book on this topic by Seth Godin: “All Marketers are Liars”. This is a great introduction to storytelling and why telling stories is absolutely critical in spreading ideas and marketing effectively. If we break down what we are doing to the very core, we are telling our story and trying to weave that into the patients’ story.

I remember an interesting study I was told about in medical school. Investigators were interested in learning about patient compliance in regards to prescription medicine. To study this they looked at the trash cans in the waiting rooms and outside physician’s offices. Guess what they found: about 33 percent of patients threw the prescriptions they were just given into the trash. 33 percent - that is a lot of prescriptions! How did this happen? Patients went to the doctor for a reason and the doctor gave them the prescription to help with the problem!

The heart of this matter lies in how effective the doctor can communicate with the patient. It truly is a negotiation - the only way a patient will accept the prescription is if it is something that fits into their world view of healing. For many patients, even when they are coming to the doctor for shoulder pain, they are really coming for fatigue or stress management or depression. A prescription for Ibuprofen won’t fix those things.

The solution? Pay more attention to how well you communicate with your patients. Much of marketing comes with the subtle nuances related to rapport, trust, body language, and eye contact. Physicians are in the business of marketing - it is time we treated medicine in this manner; the art of medicine is so much more important than the science of medicine.

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