Observations on Healthcare Marketing in India

A. India is unique in healthcare marketing. In most developed countries healthcare is insurance driven. In India on the other hand, hospital and doctor brands are largely driven by the direct payments made by individuals for procedures, services and care.

This leads to healthcare brands advertising in a plethora of ways such as

  • Newspaper inserts
  • Health camps in colonies
  • Radio ads
  • SMS promotions
  • Testimonials of patients
  • Doctor promotions via Ads and PR
  • Public health messaging
  • Social (Digital) platforms

B. Over and above all this, hospitals and doctor brands also attract a large number of international patients. A testimony to this is the fact that the lobby of almost every Delhi hospital is now full of patients from all across the world. Looking more like an international airport than a hospital waiting lounge. The above channels of outreach then have an additional aim of attracting international patients too.

C. In the past 10 years, Healthcare advertising has moved from reticence to over the top, endless stream of communication, where every disease is promoted as serious and significant, needing specialists and testing. World heart day, World Diabetes day etc are given extraordinary coverage as well as Mothers day where hospital brands suggest special women’s health packages. Healthcare services now come in all shapes and sizes – post operative care, emergency care, web platforms for everything, wellness brands – but what is missing is an integrated approach towards the customer. Many a times customers are left feeling that they are just a body for multiple testing and procedures but no specialist wants to speak to the other and patients are increasingly being left to fend for themselves.

D. Some hospitals have also started outsourcing important services like labs, dental care and IVF to external specialists which has its own set of customer experience issues. Hospitals are also setting up sub brands. Initially hospital departments such as Ortho, Neuro became brands and now increasingly specific treatments such IVF are being branded.

E. The big question though is, “Does the customer trust the system?” There is a recent book on this but you don’t have to look far to find cases that point to an increasing mistrust of the doctor, the procedure and even the hospital. You just need to search within facebook to find instances where patients trust has been broken. What are you doing to me? How much is it going to cost me? Do I even need it? – Maybe a Trip Advisor kind of customer rating system of healthcare is really what is needed now.

F. For the people who have health insurance, things are not any simpler. As things stand today, a Rs 24 lac insurance is roughly 1 month of ICU care. Where will this lead to? There is mistrust between the 3 parties – patients, hospitals and insurance.

G. The challenge with hospital brands is one of scalability. One can get funds to build buildings, buy expertise and instil processes. But trust, transparency and belief in brand are priceless. That’s really the challenge for hospital branding! The patient needs to be at the centre of decision making. The emphasis instead, is on procedure and increasing length of hospital stays.

H. It’s really not about buying the latest equipment but actually making information available to customers whenever they need it and providing them with integrated care pathways.

Branded Chemists in India

Some observations on Branded Chemists in India, from the customer’s perspective:
1. None of the branded pharmacy chains have got their act together. They have gone about adding SKU‘s but in the process have lost their ability to provide the core service.
2. It takes far too long in such stores for them to fill out prescriptions.
3. Products are not available and thus requesting them to order it is a cumbersome process.
4Loyalty cards have been introduced but processes and experiences that would encourage loyalty are not there.
5. Staff more often than not keeps changing and thus the skill level or knowledge is generally low. Empowerment of staff is another issue.
6. One reason, one might consider going, is the promise of genuine medicine sourced centrally. It is however a concern that stores at local level procure medicines from other local non branded stores. So how does the customer feel they are getting what they paid for.
7. Branded chains also seem to be exploring some sort of private label approach for some products, which somehow worries me even if the product hypothetically is an ear bud. Is there a ?

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Hospital Branding…What works?

Branding in the traditional sense is expected to generate more awareness and thereby more customers having an orientation to buy the product. Applied to a tertiary care heart hospital this could mean telling customers about your great facilities and doctors and asking them to visit you for surgeries. By imputation it would also imply that you want more customers to have heart problems that would lead to more surgeries and business for you!
It is therefore needless to add that traditional communication does not really work when you have to promote a hospital, clinic or nursing home.
Lets see if direct communication principles would work here instead. While running various direct marketing programs for a car company, you could send a mailer telling them about the features of the new car that your company may be launching. If applied directly here it could mean “Please visit us again for your next heart surgery” or “Great limited offer with 25% discount for your next surgery. Act Now”. These offers don’t just sound ridiculous, they could be very hurtful instead. A nursing home recently sent a birthday card to a patient who had expired a month back.
Does this mean that branding a healthcare facility is impossible?
Not at all! Several healthcare facilities have shown us the difference branding can make in developing a successful healthcare business.
Successful branding for a hospital is a function of “Sensitivity and Empathy”. It is about communicating “care” through your staff, facility and collateral.
What do you need to do?
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Franchising a Health Network

When Hamlet asks “To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles’ he could have been referring to the Franchising dilemma that today’s health and wellness providers are grappling with. To Franchise and grow quickly vs own and grow in a measured way.
Probably there is no right answer without a strong context. Franchising is basically a form of ownership. In a franchisee driven business such as Pizza Hut – the brand is owned by the company – in this case Yum foods and outlets are owned and managed by independent franchisees. So no matter which Pizza Hut or McDonald’s you visit the product, pricing and service experience is always similar and consistent.
This works because the franchisor and franchisee agree to the fundamental premise that each franchisee will always follow established brand and operational guidelines. This way of working allows the Franchisor to focus on ensuring compliance while the franchisee builds the local business.
While this framework works well in several types of retail businesses, in health and wellness it posts several challenges:
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