Why doctors hate marketing

Understanding is the key to building better relationships

First of all, let’s be clear. It’s not you. It’s marketing they hate, so don’t take it personally. And to be fair, not all doctors hate marketing (some actually love marketing; either because it’s helped build their practice, or just because they like to see their picture in the media – but that’s another blog post). So, what’s at the root of doctors’ animosity toward marketing? And how can we use this understanding to build better relationships?

Let’s back up and see where all this began

Up until the late 1970s, doctors and marketers had very little to do with each other. Physicians took care of people who lived near their practice, they got referrals from their colleagues, and never spent a dime on advertising. Marketing people stayed busy selling cars, housewares and packaged goods, and never thought twice about doctors or healthcare. And everyone was happy.

Then a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit challenged the restrictions on professionals such as lawyers and physicians to compete in free trade. The AMA eventually agreed to let doctors advertise their services, and suddenly, doctors and marketers were thrust into a business relationship that neither was prepared for. More than 40 years later, healthcare marketing has become ubiquitous, yet, doctors are still standoffish. Here are some of the reasons doctors can’t embrace our practices.

Physicians are concerned that:

Healthcare advertising is unethical

Many physicians don’t believe it’s fair or accurate to make competitive claims about medical services or who has “the best healthcare.” They know every case is different and even the most highly-trained physicians can’t guarantee perfect outcomes for every patient. When marketing makes sweeping statements about what patients can expect, the messages can be misleading or even false advertising.

Marketing medicalizes normal change

Physicians too often have seen pharmaceutical companies aggressively market new drugs to the public to create consumer demand for treatments that doctors may not be inclined to prescribe. These aggressive marketing campaigns suggest that people ‘ask their doctor” about a medication, often even before the condition has been properly diagnosed. Doctors also don’t want to encourage people to seek care for conditions that may be deemed normal for their age or stage of life. In his book, How Doctors Think, Dr. Jerome Groopman writes, “…some pharmaceutical companies are striving to change the way doctors think about health and disease. In this case, they are medicalizing normal change in aging men. These companies make testosterone products; they want not only to have their drug prescribed instead of the competition’s, but to expand the market beyond what medical science dictates.” The awareness of new prescription drugs, along with the wealth of medical information available to people, has reversed the traditional diagnosis and prescription process. In fact, a recent survey of doctors suggests that patient pressure is the second biggest reason for the over-treatment in this country (PLOSOne).

All this marketing might actually work

And finally, doctors have concerns that advertising might be too effective. Seeing an increase in patient volume could be overwhelming to physicians. It could also mean that they have less time to spend with their patients than they do now. Rushing patient visits could also create more opportunities to make mistakes.

It’s time to start changing their perceptions

Given the physician’s emphasis on the health and well-being of their patients, it’s no wonder that doctors hate marketing. Fortunately, there are some ways to overcome these perceptions [LINK TO EARN RESPECT POST] and regain the respect of our doctors. By demonstrating the power of positive marketing, one day we can bring marketers and physicians together in a peaceful, productive and mutually beneficial relationship.

Watch out for more posts about managing relationships and our upcoming e-book, “The Healthcare Marketer’s Guide to Managing Relationships,”.