As a medical student, way back in the early 90’s, I was amazed (and disillusioned) to learn that some of the physicians that I most admired were accepting substantial gifts from various industry representatives. When asked, they all rationalized their behavior in some way that I had difficulty understanding.
The End of an Era
It wasn’t long before there were scandals when some physicians were found to be accepting exorbitant gifts – week-long family vacations in the Caribbean or at some posh ski resort – and the practice became widely criticized.
It was during this time that a backlash began.
The movement started by eliminating free tickets to ball games, and rapidly extended to eliminate free pens and other trinkets for use in our offices, to eliminate all free samples of medications in our clinics, to finally altogether eliminate entry of industry representatives to our department at the hospital.
Loss of Connection, and Re-connecting
That left various industry representatives, for example, from pharmaceutical companies or medical device companies, with limited ways to connect with physicians.
This loss of connection was a loss for both the industry and for the medical community. Physicians lost a source of cutting-edge R&D insider-information (industry-to-physician information flow), and physicians also lost a valuable channel through which to influence the direction of that R&D. We lost the ability to easily inform industry of our needs, and the needs of our patient communities.
The industry lost a means of informing physicians of the latest and greatest developments in medicines and medical devices.
This is a lose/lose/lose situation.
As a healthcare social media “thought leader,” I am often approached by such vendors asking how they can re-connect with physicians.
How to Re-Connect?
My answer? You connect with physicians the same way you connect with any customer: by providing value. In this case, by providing valuable information.
The term for this solution in the marketing world is “content marketing”. Whereas the notion of “marketing” has a negative connotation for many of us, an alternative way to think of this approach is simply “education”.
The idea is merely to become a trusted source of valuable information – content.
Provide valuable information, and your customers will seek YOU out. They will connect with YOU.
Two keys here: the content must be from a trusted source, and must add value.
Content Marketing in Healthcare
As just one example, in order to connect with patients and increase patient flow, some hospitals have recognized that they need to rank highly on search engine results. These hospitals have discovered that establishing a website and packing it with free healthcare information has connected them with patients, increased patient flow, and ultimately increased revenue.
Patients are looking for reliable, trustworthy, free information about their healthcare and, more specifically, about their personal diagnoses. Patients find these websites, they visit, they leave comments, they tell friends about these sites, they link to the sites from their Facebook pages, Tweet about them, etc.
Digital word-of-mouth in action.
The result? Search-engine-optimization (SEO). And the cycle continues: more patients find the site, tell their friends, interact on the site by leaving comments and asking questions, all resulting in more patients for the hospital, all resulting in improved SEO.
How can this work for companies that want to connect with physicians?
What do physicians need? What do they want? What is their pain point?
In this age of financial downturn, physicians want what all businesses want: to stay in business.
They want to increase patient volume without increasing marketing expenditures. They want more efficiency. More efficient billing and more efficient collections. They want less red tape and less bureaucracy. They want better educated referring physicians. They want better educated patients. They want patients who are partners in maintaining their health.
How does this translate into “content marketing” for industry?
Any vendor who can meet ANY of these needs will connect with physicians.
As a single case study, let’s review how Acclarent, maker of Balloon Sinuplasty technology, connects with their physician group – ENT surgeons.
Balloon Sinuplasty is a technology that uses a balloon catheter, similar to cardiac balloon catheter that interventional cardiologists use to open coronary arteries without coronary artery bypass surgery, to open up the sinuses around the nose as a remedy for chronic sinusitis.
So how can Acclarent connect with their ENT surgeons?
The cold-call sales approach is less than optimal. Visiting ENT surgeons and telling them how great the technology is can be unproductive; most ENT surgeons are aware of the technology and have either adopted it, or written it off as a gimmick. Acclarent has a great product, with proven long-term results from well-conducted clinical trials. They can market in a more relaxed manner by simply providing those results – by educating the market.
Enter Content Marketing
Acclarent understands the challenges of marketing a practice. In this case, a surgical Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology) practice. For the ENT surgeon who uses Balloon Sinuplasty, Acclarent recognized that any help they could provide to their ENT surgeons to connect with referring physicians and educate those referring physicians would also increase referral of sinusitis patients.
The end result increases the flow of patients to that ENT surgeon.
In response, Acclarent provides trustworthy, valuable content:
Acclarent provides all of the necessary educational materials (videos, still images, printed brochures, data from clinical trials and studies published in peer-reviewed medical literature) to help educate the referring physician practices (internists and family practice physicians) about Balloon Sinuplasty.
The way this works is as follows: The ENT surgeon’s office arranges for a “lunch-and-learn” for a referring physician practice. Acclarent provides the educational materials, and the ENT surgeon provides a lecture and answers questions about the procedure.
The content is provided by Acclarent. They have collected high-quality videos and images from the many ENT surgeons who use their technology, and they provide it for free. This content makes the presenting ENT surgeon look good – high-quality educational content.
High-quality medical media can be technically difficult to develop, and is generally expensive to produce. Most physicians don’t have the budgets to outsource such content, and they don’t have the technical savvy necessary to develop such content themselves.
In this way, Acclarent makes it easy for the ENT surgeon. They eliminate a pain point.
The referring physicians learn more about the diagnosis of sinusitis: they learn more about treatment options of a common ailment. The ENT surgeons make a better connection with their referring physicians, and they likely increase their volume of sinusitis patients, some of whom may be good candidates for Balloon Sinuplasty as a treatment option.
Acclarent will make the sale of Balloon Sinuplasty supplies to the hospital where these ENT surgeons operate.
In the process, there have been no substantial gifts to any individuals, and all support has been for education: to review the medical literature, and to educate a group of physicians on a common diagnosis – something that is usually appreciated. Everyone involved benefits, including the potential patients. No downside.
The other thing that Acclarent achieves with this arrangement is the connection with their physicians. They have become a trusted source of valuable information. They become a resource. They are simply helpful.
That opens up a two-way connection: Acclarent keeps their ENT surgeons up-to-date, and the next time one of those ENT surgeons has an idea for improving sinus surgery, that information will easily be communicated to Acclarent.
Acclarent wins. The surgeon wins. The patient wins.
Can this model work for pharmaceutical companies?
You bet it can. For those vendors astute enough to recognize the opportunity that content marketing presents, this model is already succeeding.