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Should You Apologize for Marketing Healthcare Services?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

target market Do you need to apologize for marketing your healthcare services? We’d like to hear from you about the controversial questions raised in last week’s USA Today article about some of the marketing methods used in healthcare. (The primary focus of this piece is hospital marketing, but the implications extend to private practices, health systems and providers in nearly every category.)

The article, titled Hospitals Use Patient Data to Tailor Marketing to Customers, raises the question: Is there something inherently inappropriate about healthcare marketing and, in particular, the use of data mining. Let us know what you think.You’ll want to read the full article, but some of the issues and questions include:

  • Are hospitals using private data to improve customer relations or pursue profits?
  • What is your policy regarding legal implications of data mining?
  • Is data mining a growing trend that will accelerate with electronic medical records?
  • Does audience targeting benefit service providers or the people most likely in need?
  • Should providers (hospitals and others) use consumer marketing data to market their services?

It’s our perspective that healthcare marketing and advertising—appropriate, professional and legally presented—connects people in need with provider solutions, to the benefit of both. What’s more, there’s a significant cost-saving factor in effectively using constrained marketing budgets. Tailoring information to the needs and interests of the individual is efficient, effective and lowers costs.

We're surprised that they are surprised. The fact is that precisely targeted messages are not new, and they remain in use simply because they work. As the USA Today article observes, such strategies have been “used for decades by the retail, travel and communications industries…” for example, “Buy a book on Amazon and it will suggest a title with a similar subject. Search for information on Alaskan vacations on Google, and an ad pops up for a cruise line.”

Curiously, an article in the same publication a few weeks earlier raised questions about marketing methods: Hospitals hire reps to sell doctors on patient referrals.

We welcome your observations and comments: “Critics say the practice violates privacy rights and targets only the well-insured instead of those most in need. Hospital officials say customer relationship marketing helps get health information to the people most likely to use it.”

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