Challenges and opportunities in practice marketing - an interview with marketing expert Sarafina Eckert
14.07.2022 18:17

Challenges and opportunities in practice marketing - an interview with marketing expert Sarafina Eckert

Not so long ago, doctor’s performance spoke for itself and professional marketing played a rather secondary role. However, the needs, expectations and behaviour of patients in general are subject to a constant change. If you do not work strategically on communication with your patients, you will lose out in the medium and long term perspective. Especially medical practices that do not have their own know-how in this area face an additional challenge when it comes to practice marketing. 

Sarafina Eckert is a marketing expert and consultant at Lumina Health. Working with healthcare providers, she carries out project management functions and designs strategic marketing plans and campaigns for them.

In an interview with Medicosearch, she highlights the challenges and opportunities of marketing in the healthcare sector and provides an outlook on the dynamics of existing and future requirements.

Practice marketing for doctors - a challenging and unique domain

The healthcare sector does indeed have its special challenges, which lie on the one hand with the healthcare providers themselves and on the other hand with their target groups, the patients. This makes it even more important for Sarafina Eckert to always point out and convey the difference between business and psychological goals. "These can vary from specialty to specialty, which makes health care a challenging and exciting field," says Eckert. Once these goals have been defined, the work continues according to classic marketing methods. 

 Marketing strategy approach in the health sector

"Of course, it would be too simple if there were a standard approach but there is no such thing," says Eckert. Instead, there are methods that help to create a structured approach to your own goals. Eckert and her team usually start with an analysis of the current situation, allowing them to identify initial goals. The next step is a conceptual phase that results in the implementation of the developed strategy. 

Eckert: " First of all, doctors have to be aware of their business goals; what should be achieved? We analyse the coherence and consistency of the communication. That means we look at all communication channels - this can be online or offline - and evaluate how coherent and consistent they are in terms of the company's goals. 

As mentioned above, it is essential to distinguish between the psychological and the business goals of a company. After all, they determine the expectations of a potential client. Eckert says: "Achieving business goals over the short term is rather unlikely and such a promise by agencies would also be unrealistic". To have more patients visit a practice, to generate greater turnover or to increase the price of the services charged, the target group must first develop disposition and interest. "This can never be done on short notice, but must be worked out step by step by meeting the psychological goals," is how Eckert answers the frequently asked question about the timeline or: When can the first changes be expected?

 Psychological goals of a medical practice can be, for example: 

  • Strengthen trust
  • Increase awareness
  • Improve image
  • Promote identity of the practice

The business goals of a medical practice, on the other hand, are naturally reflected in its turnover. According to the strategy, they ideally go hand in hand with the achievement of the psychological goals, or follow them with a delay. 

Emotions and requirements face numbers, analyses and strategies 

An evidence-based approach is essential. Especially the increasing online marketing enables and demands the possibility to measure actions. Even if patients emotions and requirements take a central place, it is a very analytical and number-driven work from the definition of the target group to the implementation of the respective measures. "In the implementation, depending on where the defined target group is to be found, we usually turn to the classic measures," says Eckert. These can look digitally as follows: 

  • SEO and SEA
  • Blog post publications
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Display ads
  • Social media marketing

An example that illustrates how marketing can also vary within the health sector depending on the field can be found in the aesthetic industry. "Here, the target group can be reached very well via social media channels," Eckert believes. In fact, it is often possible to tell by looking at the patients of a doctor's practice whether they are using these social media channels to their advantage, because they have a significantly higher proportion of patients from precisely this target group. So new target groups can certainly be opened up through new communication channels. 

Consistency and coherence play a central role in the implementation of marketing strategies. This is the only way to identify and understand patients' needs over time. "This knowledge is in turn the basis for our further work and ongoing optimisations," Eckert explains. This is especially necessary in today's world where almost everything is undergoing a fast-moving change. 

Patients and their expectations change as marketing adapts

A great keyword here is the "patient of the future". Eckert says to this: "The term is deceptive, as I am convinced that it has already arrived in our present. In my opinion, the past few years, especially due to the pandemic, have brought an extreme acceleration in the healthcare system."

"The demands are not only changing, but they are extremely growing" 

From online appointments to video consultations and automated patient registration processes; many people already see all of these as standard and consider it a significant advantage. On the other hand, it is perceived as a major drawback if a practice does not offer this. Sustainability also plays an increasing role for patients in the healthcare system. Hardly anyone still understands having to fill out a questionnaire of several pages on the spot and in printed form. This applies predominantly to Generation Y and younger. " This certainly has to be taken into account in marketing," says Eckert.

 Prevention has also become increasingly important for younger generations. This market sector shows an annual growth of around 10 per cent. The telemedicine/video consultation sector is showing similar growth. Eckert says: "The numbers also tell us that about 70 percent of patients are already looking for medical information or doctors online, about 40 percent of them via Google". Therefore, it is even more important to remain up-to-date in communication and, above all, to recognize trends, to incorporate them or to adapt to them. 

Popular mistakes in practice marketing  

"In such a delicate industry as healthcare, I would also like to mention common mistakes in marketing," Eckert warns. In the best case, these can have no effect or, in the worst case, they can even have legal consequences. 

"An often observed mistake is when marketers or decision-makers leave out the strategic and analytical part. This also often happens when healthcare providers try to implement marketing on their own," Eckert explains. Inevitably, consistency and coherence are often lost and this ultimately leads to a "dilution of the brand" which greatly reduces marketing effectiveness. Lack of success despite a spent budget then quickly leads to disappointment," Eckert adds. 

Intervening in existing strategies or deviating from them in an unplanned way also leads to less success and increased costs. "Having a plan is important, but following it all the way is just equally important," Eckert says from her own experience.

Not to forget: the legal conditions. These exist in all industries, but in the healthcare they are even more strictly focused and bring additional challenges. "We therefore have to raise our clients' awareness of the fact that there are guidelines for communication and advertising as well as codes of conduct of the cantonal Medical Association," says Eckert and warns against misinterpreting the legal requirements which can slightly differ from canton to canton. 

“Basically, these requirements state that marketing should be very objective and informative and must not actively contribute to under- or over-supply," Eckert reports and elaborates: 

"Communication must not be misleading, deceptive or pushy. You must not advertise your own person. All these requirements must be strictly complied with, but they can additionally restrict marketing for healthcare providers on a daily basis. They can be potential traps that can be avoided by planning ahead.” 

Healthcare marketing: win-win for doctors and patients 

"I am absolutely convinced that if practice managers take a serious and in-depth look at the needs and expectations of their target group, it will serve more than just the economic goals of the company," Eckert says, being aware of the increasingly important factors that will play an even greater role in the future.

Especially when looking into the future, the idea becomes crystal clear that the developments of the aspects mentioned by Sarafina Eckert will be even more rapid, even much more far-reaching than can currently be foreseen. All in all, she is convinced that at the end of the day these developments can help all parties to achieve greater satisfaction and well-being:

"Most importantly, it makes going to the clinic, doctor, etc. much easier and eliminates obstacles. The services offered become clearer and correspond a lot more to the needs of the patients. "Personalized medicine" plays a major role here and ensures that the person moves to the centre and also feels fully understood and well taken care of.  That is the goal we are pursuing with healthcare marketing."

We would like to thank Sarafina Eckert, practice marketing expert at Lumina Health who, in cooperation with Medicosearch, develop digital solutions in healthcare and communicate them in a targeted manner.