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What Doctors Fear Most About Their Own Advertising. Hint: Needy.

By Kathy, Senior Marketing Strategist

"Panic" and "Calm" street signs with sunny skiesSome old-school ideas needlessly linger on.

There’s a tired notion that sometimes whispers in the back of a physician’s brain and says: “Doctors shouldn’t advertise.” Or, more specifically, they fear: “My professional peers will think less of me. Physician advertising will hurt my relationships with referring doctors.”

In fact, the reverse is often true today. Advertising can boost professional referrals. Here’s why…

There was a time—quite a long while ago, really—when the old fears were justified. We can look back a few decades when most of the earliest healthcare advertising was…well, “less-than-professional.” (Even today, there’s a wide disparity of the quality of physician advertising – the secret lies in how you do it.)

Then as now, doctors and probably many hospitals are understandably protective of their public reputation, and especially in the perception of fellow doctors. Physicians are reluctant to make referrals to a practice that doesn’t command professional respect or is willing to actively build a working relationship.

Advertising your commitment to the relationship

Fortunately, the trend today is different. Contemporary doctor advertising can put patient care at the center of the message, and in the process, emphasizes the teamwork relationship between the referring practice and the specialist or subspecialist. In some ways it’s completely counterintuitive to the old-school fears.

In many cases, the right kind of advertising message to patients strongly influences doctors to refer more often, not less. What’s more, advertising solidifies and strengthens—not weakens—existing referral relationships and opens the door to new ones.

Here’s a typical story that illustrates this new perspective.

Healthcare Success has been working with a specialized group practice on the West Coast where the external advertising—in this case, mainly broadcast advertising—speaks directly to the greater patient benefits from their practice, including the close cooperation between the patient’s provider and the specialist practice.

A referring doctor told our client, “Your ad convinced me of your teamwork approach and your willingness for our practices to work together. I am referring patients to your practice because of your commitment to a patient-centered relationship. Other practices are not as respectful…and your advertising reminded me to refer where respect and trust are valued.”

We routinely hear similar comments from practices and hospitals that we work with nationwide. Well-crafted and effective advertising positively influences other practices and healthcare providers who make referrals.

We’re tracking the increase in a range of disciplines including orthopedic surgery, cardiac care, maternal fetal medicine and other specialty and sub-specialty professions. (We’ll have a quantified report in a follow-up article.)

The cornerstone idea is that high-quality, professional advertising boosts doctor-to-doctor referrals particularly when there is an emphasis on the collegial relationship.

Benefits of growing your reputation through advertising.

A professional reputation and branding message are part of the same marketing cloth. Quality advertising communicates value—to prospective patients and to professional peers—in ways that enhance a referral relationship. In part, the advertiser communicates a message of:

  • Reduced Risk: Recognized names are valued for an assurance of quality.
  • Increased Trust: A valued relationship is based on mutual respect.
  • Competitive Advantage: Wide recognition puts you ahead of the competition.
  • Future Referral Incentive: Professionals and patients alike are more inclined to make referrals due to their respect, loyalty and confidence.

Some of our clients are pleasantly surprised by the added relationships and increased referrals that are inspired by advertising messages. Whatever mild reservations they might have had—lingering old-school fears—have been soundly put to rest.

In part, physician advertising is about building a positive reputation in the minds and hearts of prospective patients and fellow healthcare providers. With both audiences, it’s about building relationships based on respect and trust.

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