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.

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