Summary: With changing time the healthcare industry has to change itself and its image management strategy. Even though ICMR doesn’t allow advertising, perception management is allowed with the help of image consultant. Since the target audience is changing, the strategy has to adapt itself with the target audience. Though there are few companies in Indian scenario who have been working on image management and this has proved a boon to them.
Healthcare industry, especially DOCTORS, for decades were dependent on word – of – mouth marketing. Even when the industry leaders changed perception to becoming corporate entity, they still cannot advertise its services along with the costs, as of now only awareness related advertising has been permitted ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research). Another reason behind less amount spent on healthcare advertising is, the Indian consumers generally believe that hospitals which advertise charge extra than the rest hospitals, since they include marketing costs in the OPD fees.
One debate which has kept ICMR busy for a very long time, “Whether doctors should advertise” this discussion will continue, since the decision makers are from the old school thought process and believe that if the hospital / doctor is really good then the patients will spread good word to target audience and that’s the main reason they are against advertising.
So the question arises, whether this should this stop the healthcare sector from hiring Image management experts?
In my personal opinion, YES.
The healthcare sector should hire brand or public relations consultants who will guide in managing the brand and building the perception amongst the target audience. It is essential for a healthcare provider to define internal as well as external communication and branding strategy based on the laws laid down by ICMR.
- Define target audience,
- Inform about the services offered
- Device crisis management strategy
- Reach out to stakeholders
Most often the doctors who have completed Masters in Healthcare Administration take charge of the marketing department of these healthcare companies, and they are incapable to advice on Brands and how it relates to the company philosophy. This has been the major reason Healthcare companies need experienced Brand/Image Consultants.
Case Study: Hinduja Hospital, a trust managed hospital, under Bombay Charitable Trusts Act with a capacity of 351 beds including ICUs, ICCUs, latest technology to diagnose and treat patients, highly qualified medical and paramedical staff to managed emergencies, etc. Most of the associated doctors often quote in media on various health related issues, media has a very positive attitude towards the hospital.
The hospital never advertises because it is a charitable trust hospital helping poor patients. The best part is even media knows this about Hinduja Hospital, but what happens when a dipstick opinion survey is conducted? The findings very much deviate from the philosophy of the hospital, it shows that the hospital is for rich people and hardly any poor patients opt for treatment at Hinduja Hospital. Quite surprising truth about this hospital! Now the public perception has to be changed, so the brand is in sync with its philosophy, mission and perception.
In this case the hospital has to hire an Image Consultancy which would try to change the perception over a period. The plan would be a mix of events, press conferences, case studies about financially poor patients treatment in media, CMEs, internal communication programs, brochure and information document development, etc.