Observations on Healthcare Marketing in India

A. India is unique in healthcare marketing. In most developed countries healthcare is insurance driven. In India on the other hand, hospital and doctor brands are largely driven by the direct payments made by individuals for procedures, services and care.

This leads to healthcare brands advertising in a plethora of ways such as

  • Newspaper inserts
  • Health camps in colonies
  • Radio ads
  • SMS promotions
  • Testimonials of patients
  • Doctor promotions via Ads and PR
  • Public health messaging
  • Social (Digital) platforms

B. Over and above all this, hospitals and doctor brands also attract a large number of international patients. A testimony to this is the fact that the lobby of almost every Delhi hospital is now full of patients from all across the world. Looking more like an international airport than a hospital waiting lounge. The above channels of outreach then have an additional aim of attracting international patients too.

C. In the past 10 years, Healthcare advertising has moved from reticence to over the top, endless stream of communication, where every disease is promoted as serious and significant, needing specialists and testing. World heart day, World Diabetes day etc are given extraordinary coverage as well as Mothers day where hospital brands suggest special women’s health packages. Healthcare services now come in all shapes and sizes – post operative care, emergency care, web platforms for everything, wellness brands – but what is missing is an integrated approach towards the customer. Many a times customers are left feeling that they are just a body for multiple testing and procedures but no specialist wants to speak to the other and patients are increasingly being left to fend for themselves.

D. Some hospitals have also started outsourcing important services like labs, dental care and IVF to external specialists which has its own set of customer experience issues. Hospitals are also setting up sub brands. Initially hospital departments such as Ortho, Neuro became brands and now increasingly specific treatments such IVF are being branded.

E. The big question though is, “Does the customer trust the system?” There is a recent book on this but you don’t have to look far to find cases that point to an increasing mistrust of the doctor, the procedure and even the hospital. You just need to search within facebook to find instances where patients trust has been broken. What are you doing to me? How much is it going to cost me? Do I even need it? – Maybe a Trip Advisor kind of customer rating system of healthcare is really what is needed now.

F. For the people who have health insurance, things are not any simpler. As things stand today, a Rs 24 lac insurance is roughly 1 month of ICU care. Where will this lead to? There is mistrust between the 3 parties – patients, hospitals and insurance.

G. The challenge with hospital brands is one of scalability. One can get funds to build buildings, buy expertise and instil processes. But trust, transparency and belief in brand are priceless. That’s really the challenge for hospital branding! The patient needs to be at the centre of decision making. The emphasis instead, is on procedure and increasing length of hospital stays.

H. It’s really not about buying the latest equipment but actually making information available to customers whenever they need it and providing them with integrated care pathways.