Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Other Locations

I've taken a break from posting so I can devote more time to my consulting work. For consulting services and healthcare marketing please visit me at my company website FirstRanked. You can also reach me via my online marketing and web strategy blog at


Monday, November 21, 2005

Healthcare Marketing Blog Revisited

It's been several months since my last post and I've had a number of new business projects come online in the medical search marketing space since then, so I thought I'd get back into the swing of things by discussing them.

The most interesting of these new projects has been Healthline, a new consumer health search engine that launched in this October. Healthline is interesting in that it's the first vertical search engine in the medical space to use a medical lexicon to route users from vernacular type searches ("sore throat") to the most likely corresponding medical term ("pharyngitis"). This is incredibly handy to those of us not familiar with medical terminology (read: most of us) as it allows users to skip the time-consuming research process of learning the correct terminology - instead allowing them to jump directly to the information they need.

Healthline contracted my company FirstRanked Healthcare to provide online marketing services and development support. To date we've provided them with two very successful Google Adwords and Yahoo Search Marketing campaigns, mapped out a long-term link development strategy, initiated a long-term search engine optimization program, and generated several innovative new ideas for future Healthline site features. Healthline is an interesting company with a well-positioned product and I'm looking forward to continuing working with them as they mature into a major force in the online health area.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Online Advertising for Elective Medical Procedures

Elective medical procedures including cosmetic surgery and aesthetic/dermatological services present a unique opportunity to healthcare providers interested in marketing their services. Few insurance companies reimburse for these procedures and consequently patients are usually required to pay out-of-pocket. This shift in payment process changes the market for elective procedures in a number of ways as the patient:

* - Can now choose any healthcare provider they desire
* - Is more likely to comparison shop to find the best/cheapest provider
* - May travel significant distances to visit their preferred provider

As a result of these changes, the market size for elective procedures is effectively much larger than that for insurance-reimbursed services as patients can be sourced from outside of the provider’s local geographic area. For example, skilled cosmetic surgeons are highly sought after by patients in high-socioeconomic populations and these patients are willing and able to travel significant distances in order to visit a top surgeon. The large, potentially international, population for these types of elective procedures makes for a highly competitive market – one that also happens to be ideally suited to online advertising.

When people think of online advertising they typically think of banner advertisements, however new marketing strategies such as search engine optimization and contextual advertising are currently providing better returns and, if applied intelligently, can be far more effective at generating new patients and increasing business for a healthcare practice.

Very briefly, search engine optimization is marketing strategy based on targeting existing search engine traffic for terms relating to specific medical procedures. Something of a “black art” - search engine optimization (SEO) is difficult to implement effectively and results can vary greatly between providers of SEO services, however the rewards are considerable.

Example: A prominent dermatologist recently contracted my firm FirstRanked Healthcare to provide online marketing for her Los Angeles and Santa Monica dermatology practices. Los Angeles is widely recognized as a destination locale for aesthetic/cosmetic procedures and this physician saw an opportunity to increase business by targeting both local and national/international markets via online advertising and search engine optimization. As of the date of this article, her site is ranked #1 on Google and MSN for “Los Angeles dermatologist” and she is seeing a 40% increase in office appointments, all made directly through her website.

In this article I’ve focused mostly on cosmetic/aesthetic services, however almost any type of medical procedure where the patient is granted some freedom in their choice of provider can benefit from online advertising. Other applicable areas include complex procedures relating to oncology or cardiology services. As more and more patients go online to research their healthcare options*, online advertising will continue to grow as an important part of any effective healthcare advertising campaign.

* As of 2003 data, over 80% of Americans (92 Million) have used the Internet to research health information. Of this population over 19 Million have used the internet to research specific healthcare providers. Pew Internet 2003

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Business of Medicine Conflict

A business partner of mine had a conversation with a healthcare client which pointed out an intellectual conflict that I imagine is fairly common among medical practices and healthcare providers; The Business of Medicine Conflict.

Healthcare providers rightly feel that their primary purpose is the provision of medical services. Conflict however seems to arise from the idea that providing care is their only purpose and that attending to the details necessary to successfully provide this care, namely promotion and advertising of the practice, is not only unnecessary – but actually contrary to the ideals of practicing medicine.

Healthcare providers operate on a classic fee-for-service business model, however it can distasteful to some physicians to view their “care” as a “business”.

This fundamental business/medicine conflict underlies poor business and marketing decisions that negatively impact the success many healthcare practices:

* No Advertising – “We provide excellent care – people find us by word of mouth.”
* Insufficient Marketing Budget – “Advertising cuts into our bottom line.”
* Weak Practice Branding – “I’m a physician, not a product.”

From an emotional viewpoint these statements are understandable – they stem from a common desire by the physician to view their work as something unique that should be recognized on it’s own merits. The pragmatic reality however is that medical care almost entirely a commoditized service; outside of instances of medical malpractice, there is very little to differentiate one physician’s care versus any other’s.

In the end a patient’s choice of one physician over another often comes down to a name in the phonebook, the results of an online search, or personal recommendations from friends and family. It is the patient’s perception of the healthcare provider that governs their decision.

Based on experiences with the coercive tactics of pharmaceutical companies, it’s perhaps not surprising that many physicians view advertising as distasteful. Advertising however takes many forms and there is an important distinction to be made between manipulating public perception and simply publicizing an honest and useful service.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Educating the Healthcare Consumer versus Information Overload

Educating the Healthcare Consumer versus Information Overload

Author Heath Shackleford discusses the increasing importance of educating and targeting healthcare consumers as part of a well-rounded marketing plan. He advocates providing consumer-level educational materials provided they can be tied directly to the branding efforts of the healthcare provider.

Also of particular interest to me was a section on the creative use of available marketing channels:

"Research shows that 75 percent of people are using the Internet for health information, while 77 percent are getting knowledge from physicians. Additionally, about 40 percent turn to family and friends, while publications such as journals and books serve as a significant resource for 35 percent...According to a recent RAND health study, people surfing the Web for health information are much more likely to use a search engine than go to a particular web site, but when they type in "diabetes" in Google, they are likely to get more than 6 million links."

Shackleford presents the above situation as a case of client information overload that might call for the creation of a more structured form of patient information delivery. While it is definitely true that sifting through several million links could qualify as "information overload", rather than develop new ways of reaching consumers, some healthcare marketers are instead using search engine marketing techniques to place their websites at the top of the rankings for these patient searches.

My company FirstRanked Healthcare was founded to target exactly this opportunity and our healthcare clients can attest to the effectiveness of these search engine marketing strategies. As a result of our marketing efforts, their patients are finding the information they need and our healthcare clients are realizing an excellent return on their advertising investment.

What's the Difference Between Your Hospital and the Other?

What's the Difference Between Your Hospital and the Other?

Applies marketing fundamentals of product differentiation to the healthcare provider marketplace. Author Gary Campbell backs the concept of focusing on just one aspect of the healthcare provision process (operational efficiency, low cost services, customer service) as a means to differentiate a hospital from the rest of its local healthcare market.

It's an interesting POV and it appeals to my personal belief in universal business fundamentals. However, given the sensitive nature of the services they provide and the public’s perception of the healthcare industry, I believe that hospitals may be much more limited in their ability to focus down on any one of these issues than a typical business. While it's acceptable for Southwest Airlines to cut back on peanuts and free drinks in order to be the "low-cost" airline leader, a healthcare provider must take extra care not to give the impression of compromising either operational efficiency or customer service in the pursuit of low cost service.

Overall however I’d say a good article and an excellent strategy for marketing healthcare services.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Measuring the Return on Internet Marketing

"Healthcare organizations face two important challenges today with respect to using the Internet in marketing. The first is what to do next...The second challenge is in justifying what has already been spent and finding ways to measure return-on-investment (ROI) for current interactive marketing efforts."
Measuring the return on Internet marketing

Integrating the Internet into Traditional Healthcare Marketing Programs

Just read an interesting 2002 HealthLeaders article on the topic of integrating Internet marketing into traditional healthcare campaigns. The marketing ideas in the article aren't very novel, but it does give a great six-part breakdown of the different ways that the Internet can be utilized for marketing purposes:

1. Advertising medium
2. Customer service/contact center
3. Transaction vehicle
4. Information resource
5. Health/disease management tool
6. Direct marketing channel

Integrating the Internet into traditional marketing programs

Friday, June 18, 2004

Search Engines and Pharmaceutical Marketing

This article is a bit dated in terms of the techniques it recommends, but it still provides a great overview of the benefits Search Engine Optimization can bring to pharmaceutical marketing campaigns:

For those of you new to the topic, Search Engine Optimization (or "SEO") is a series of techniques for modifying websites in order to improve their keyword rankings in search engines such as Google and Yahoo. SEO has some unique benefits as a marketing strategy in that it can effectively segment target audiences down to the level of individual keyword topics while still remaining completely transparent to the end user.

SEO is gradually making inroads into the conservative ranks of healthcare marketing due to its low cost, high target specificity, and significant reach. Search engines have become a primary source for information among healthcare consumers, making targeting this rich resource even more essential:

A 2001 study by The Boston Consulting Group found that 65% of patients who look for health information online begin their search with a search engine. By comparison only 24% start with health portals and 11% with disease-specific websites.

The September 2002 MD Net Guide stated that there are currently 63.3 million Americans are actively using the Internet to find online health content; of those, 24.7 million are looking for drug information. There is no doubt that the web is one of the first places patients are now going to find answers to their health questions.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

A Cure For Clinical Trials

Another good article on the high costs of delayed pharmaceutical clinical trials. This McKinsey article appears to be based on similar information as the EyeForPharma article I discussed earlier and has some additional statistics and analysis that make it worth a read.

A few of the more interesting figures:

1. More than half of all US clinical trials from 1993 to 1998 missed their deadlines by at least a month.

2. A failure to get enough patients in time accounts for 85 to 95 percent of all days lost during clinical trials.

3. Delays can cost pharma companies at least $800,000 a day in lost sales for a niche medication, such as Amaryl, an oral antidiabetic treatment, and as much as $5.4 million for a blockbuster like Prilosec, a gastrointestinal medication.

4. Taking a single month off a trial by improving recruitment could generate an additional $40 million in sales for an average drug.

excerpts taken from McKinsey's A Cure For Clinical Trials

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Medical Marketing: Device Makers Target Consumers With Their Ads

Today I read an article on the Boston Globe site about medical device manufacturers following the lead of pharmas by increasing their spending on direct-to-consumer marketing of their products. DTC advertising for medical devices is expected to reach $50M for 2004, up from next to nothing when it first started in 1996. The article mentions two medical device manufacturers that are successfully implementing DTC marketing programs; J&J for their Cypher stents and Zoll Medical for their line of automated external defibrillators.

Interestingly, through my own work I'm quite familiar with the Zoll Medical marketing program. FirstRanked recently performed an extensive search engine marketing campaign for Philips Medical Systems' "HeartStart" line of automated external defibrillators, a direct competitor to the Zoll product. We designed the marketing program to target patient keyword searches for condition-specific information relating to sudden cardiac arrest and associated symptoms in order to increase awareness of the HeartStart AED as a treatment option. The HeartStart search engine program was a resounding success, increasing Philips' product inquires for the device significantly over the course of just a few months.

Based on our own and other companies successful experiences in medical device DTC advertising I anticipate a bright future for consumer device marketing.

Medical Marketing: Device Makers Target Consumers With Their Ads

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Accelerating Clinical Trials: Strategies to Improve Efficiency

Just read an interesting article on the outsourcing of clinical trials by pharmas to third-party vendors. This outsourcing trend has proven beneficial for the pharmaceutical companies in several ways but at the same time has introduced a number of time delays in the drug trial process that are proving very costly for the sponsor companies. The article estimates that losses due to delayed release of a single candidate drug are $600K to $8M per day, making even minor delays in the trial process extremely costly.

The article addresses three ways in which the current clinical trial system can be optimized; patient recruitment, budgeting and performance assessments, and clinical operations structure and workflow.

Being involved in marketing, I found the patient recruitment aspect of the problem most interesting. Patient recruitment consumes over 30% of the trial process, resulting in delayed approval and millions of dollars in lost revenue for the sponsoring pharmaceutical company.

"Survey respondents ranked “time to completion of a trial” and “time to enroll a target number of patients” as the measures with the greatest ability to affect organizational change and clinical trial strategic and operational decision-making."

Given my background, I can think of a number of ways that search engine optimization techniques could be used to significantly improve patient recruitment efforts, primarily through the targeting of patients' keyword searches relating to the tested condition, drug, and trial location. Currently pharmas devote just 6-8% of the total trial budget to patient recruitment. This seems like an area that with additional resources and some novel marketing strategies could deliver excellent results for pharmaceutical companies.

Accelerating Clinical Trials: Strategies to Improve Efficiency

Monday, June 07, 2004

Disconnected DTC campaigns

I just read an interesting article on the DTC Perspectives site this morning discussing common disconnects between "DTC" and "professional/physician" marketing campaigns. These campaigns are typically marketed by distinct internal pharma divisions, however the article points out several benefits that can be achieved through the use of a more integrated approach.

Most significant of these benefits was the potential for DTC marketing to influence physician long-term prescribing behavior via exposure to patient drug recommendations/preferences. The article advocates a more "connected" approach to DTC/DTP marketing with additional care taken to maintain the brand image across the different marketing programs in order to maximize cross-promotional effects.

It's a good read - take a look.
Avoiding Disconnected DTC

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Introductory Post

Welcome to The Healthcare Marketing Blog. Each week I'll be posting new information, articles, and techniques for marketing healthcare products and services online.

My personal background is in online healthcare marketing - in particular search engines and technical marketing strategies. I've been performing professional search engine marketing services for five years having received my start in 1999 as one of two Search Engine Optimization Specialists with USWeb/CKS. I currently run an interactive healthcare marketing agency FirstRanked Healthcare specializing in search engine marketing strategies for the pharmaceutical, medical device, and healthcare provider industries. If you have any questions for me please feel free to contact me through the FirstRanked website.

Best Regards,
Marshall Clark