Chicken-or-Egg Challenge: Who Chooses the Hospital, Patient or Physician?

coin flip decisions More than a few times recently we’ve heard the comment: “Patients choose doctors, not hospitals.” We wonder if you agree…or not.

Evaluate a random selection of hospital advertising from around the nation and a casual observer might wonder if facilities are promoting quality care or creature comforts. Is this a fine hospital or a five-star hotel? Is this a center of medical excellence or a gourmet restaurant?

Are we looking at an industry identity crisis? Some have messages that appeal to physicians and surgeons with leading edge equipment, staff and facilities. Other material presents a direct-to-consumer message touting valet parking, beauty spa and pharmacy discounts.

The question is: Do patients choose their hospital, or do they choose their doctor?

Healthcare and hospital marketing professionals understand that the issue is more complex, but one school of thought holds that patients mainly choose a doctor first. And in contrast, there’s the premise that hospital selection is increasingly patient driven. Relationships (and the patient experience) begin well in advance of an acute medical need. For the consumer, amenities may be more important than clinical reputation.

If this balancing act is a familiar healthcare marketing challenge for you, we’d like to hear your thoughts. (And we’ll devote a future article to the comments and feedback we receive.) Here’s a snapshot of two of the primary camps.

ON APPEALING TO PHYSICIANS: Traditionally, a medical facility earned recognition by boasting an honor roll medical staff of well credentialed, highly experienced and peer-acknowledged physicians and surgeons. Doctors are drawn to associate with the A-team colleagues. Moreover, the facility of choice provides them with leading edge technology, equipment and support. Admissions flow through the physicians and surgeons.

ON APPEALING TO PATIENTS: More than ever before, patients are empowered to make their healthcare decisions. Direct-to-consumer hospital advertising mirrors that of quality hotels, complete with a “Director of Hospitality.” Facilities target upscale patients—and compete with other hospitals—with greater attentiveness, valet parking, lobster from the cafeteria, and exclusive social events. Hospital selection and admissions are increasingly patient directed.

Of course, many hospitals are working both sides of the street. There are discrete marketing efforts designed for separate audiences, purposes and goals. A dual approach is appropriate in many situations. But, when resources are strained, there can be tension between these competing perspectives. And internal arm wrestling can precede one-or-the-other decisions.

What has been your experience? Which idea is more valuable to the facility? Are these concepts in “either-or” competition, or can they work together? And we look forward to your comments and discussion.


Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer & Creative Director at Healthcare Success
Over the years Stewart has personally marketed and consulted for over 1,457 healthcare clients, ranging from private practices to multi-billion dollar corporations. Additionally, he has marketed a variety of America’s leading companies, including Citicorp, J. Walter Thompson, Grubb & Ellis, Bally Total Fitness, Wells Fargo and Chase Manhattan. Stewart co-founded our company, and today acts as Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director. He is also a frequent author and speaker on the topic of healthcare marketing. His personal accomplishments are supported by a loving wife and two beautiful daughters.



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