Healthcare Guidelines & Marketing Principles

Healthcare service development covers the deployment of innovative technologies, newer services and even different organisational models. Traditionally, these have been done by a top-down process by forcing clinical guidelines on practitioners. Industry has faced similar situations when it launched new products or services and there is a lot that the healthcare industry can learn from the way companies leverage their marketing efforts to gain success.

 Successful marketing focuses on the needs of the customer along with the excellence of the product design. A healthcare parallel would be to view marketing as the development of appropriate “knowledge products” customized to the needs of different practitioner segments that results in the successful deployment of the healthcare service.

 The problem can be studied by the tough challenges faced by clinical guidelines, which results in their slow incorporation into actual practice. In order to improve this, NHS now requires researchers to consider implementation aspects from the outset.

One can look at how marketing can help in the successful deployment of new clinical guidelines. Traditional marketing requires six key activities:

  • Opportunity Analysis
  • Target  selection
  • Strategy Design
  • Program Planning
  • Organisation
  • Strategic Framework

Opportunity Analysis:

At the outset, the probability of success of the clinical guideline should be assessed using earlier efforts, market research, current knowledge and a SWOT analysis. Strengths cover the backing of the NHS, the professional approach being followed, worldwide acceptance, high demand and cost mitigation. Perceived loss of clinical freedom, diffused market and uncertain efficiency could be Weaknesses. Cochran Collaborations, flexible and powerful internet communications are Opportunities while practitioner cynicism, information overload and purchasing obstacles could be Threats.

 Target Selection:

Typically, markets are segmented into groups with similar characteristics with some segments showing higher success potential. Clinical guidelines could first segment on the basis of specialty, user group such as consumer, provider or buyer, and target focus such as purchasing manager or clinic head and then work collaboratively with each of these segments.

 Strategy Design:

Marketing strategy is defined by the three aspects: Positioning, Development of the Product and, finally, the Product Life Cycle management. Positioning is achieved with the backing of specialist groups which gives the clinical guideline both distinction and value. Involvement of user groups in Product Development is quite common in industry. Similarly, development of clinical guidelines could benefit from the involvement of providers, purchasers and policy makers, who could potentially become de facto champions. Finally, over time the product needs to evolve and clinical guidelines could use newer delivery mechanisms such as multimedia or software.

 Program Planning:

Planning a typical marketing campaign leverages the product, its price, and place or how it is made available to the user and how it is promoted. Price may have a minor impact in the healthcare context although free availability could be an option in certain cases. Methods of Distribution of clinical guidelines could leverage promising methods such as the information superhighway but existing methodologies need to be used more consistently. Promotion needs to leverage national networks such as the National R & D Network in Geriatric Medicine as well as the vast army of facilitators. Selecting the right combination of these techniques for each target segment is crucial for success.

 Organisation:

A typical company uses its marketing department to closely manage its marketing efforts. This approach needs to seep into the healthcare industry. As clinical guidelines are deployed, there should be close monitoring of all the different deployment streams and the results need to be fed back to improve success rates.

Strategic Framework

In the commercial context, successful companies have their marketing efforts closely aligned with its corporate strategy. This is equally relevant to clinical guidelines as has been demonstrated when developing a program for healthcare of the elderly.

 Applying marketing principles to Healthcare

Hence there are good reasons for applying marketing principles to clinical guideline deployment. Firstly the marketing model seems the closest for the absorption of knowledge into actual use. Secondly, healthcare now has business world as a model to learn from. Thirdly, this is in sync with the increasing emphasis on running healthcare as a business. Fourthly, health service is becoming increasingly consumer driven. Finally, healthcare is becoming more scientific with patients becoming more aware of health problems and treatments.

 In conclusion, as marketing principles permeate the healthcare industry, healthcare professionals will realize that they are becoming central in the process of developing clinical practice. However, it must be realized that more discipline and rigor will have to come in which will lead to increasing efficiency of deployment, reduction in wasteful and inappropriate treatment and lower healthcare costs.

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