The liberalization of 1990s has brought about what is considered the most significant turning point for marketers viewing patients as consumers. The hospitals in India are witnessing the initiation of a new era – the age of the empowered healthcare consumers, who not only has access to a multitude of healthcare information, but are also well- informed about their rights as consumers.
As patients, people were submissive, they went to the doctors, followed only their advice regarding the specialists and also the preferred hospitals suggested by them. But as consumers, people play a much more active role in their healthcare. They compare doctors, look at research on internet about symptoms and diagnoses, and are sensitive to direct and indirect costs. And why shouldn’t they? It’s only natural that they would take this approach when purchasing something as vital as healthcare.
This change in perspective, added patients to the list of audiences worthy of marketing efforts and led hospital and healthcare marketers to sway patient preferences by providing choice of doctors, services, infrastructure etc. A vast array of promotional techniques like print advertising, billboards, television, digital marketing are being employed extensively in promoting the hospitals. This increase in information led to more informed and demanding consumers, providing marketers an opportunity to add health education materials and special events to its marketing mix.
With business /corporate houses and consumers emerging as buyers of healthcare services, the marketers of hospitals are also realizing that there is a need to focus on the overall experience of the patients coming to the hospital and should not be limited to patient-doctor interaction. The emphasis is on improving the experience of the patient at every touch point and building a sustainable relationship. Hospitals are increasingly getting convinced that they could bring about shifts in the market share through patient friendly marketing initiatives. This very philosophy brought about relations programs in which every hospital is ‘trying to win the ‘hearts and minds’ battle for the healthcare consumer. This is leading to building of awareness, enhancing visibility and image, improving marketing penetration, increasing prestige via accreditations, friendly medical staff and employees, serving as an information resource, influencing consumer decision making, and offsetting competitive marketing. This movement works in favor of patients as hospitals are under continuous pressure to improve the quality of patient outcomes.
Further, as managed healthcare options continue to grow, and consumers take hold of their purchasing power, healthcare industry is embracing patients as consumers; this shift in perception has established the need for branding of hospitals. The hospital marketers being handed the golden tool for positioning and differentiating healthcare and hospital services, have started believing, that if used properly, the marketing efforts could give the desired results.