3 marketing tactics doctors hate (and what you should do instead)

By and large, physicians are an ethical bunch. They take their professional oaths seriously, and bake a degree of altruism into their work.

That makes them skeptical of fields where ethics may be less rigid. Marketing, for instance, which many doctors (not to mention regular Americans) do not trust.

You can’t blame doctors. Ethically questionable healthcare marketing tactics like those used by some pharmaceutical manufacturers complicate the already fraught task of prescribing appropriately, ratcheting up the sense of cognitive dissonance docs already feel. They got into medicine to help people, but often must choose between doing the right thing and doing the self-preserving thing.

As a marketer at a hospital, health system or physician practice, you should know what you’re up against. Here are three dubious healthcare marketing tactics nearly every physician has been subjected to.

Tactic 1: Gift giving

The Senate Aging Committee heard testimony in 2008 about healthcare marketing practices based on “rewarding physicians with gifts and attention for their allegiance to your product and company despite what may be ethically appropriate.”

The testifying party shared that he and his colleagues used gifts of food to get the attention of doctors, taking great effort to determine personal tastes. It helped him to be seen as a necessity to clinics who wanted to make their staff happy. It also created an unspoken quid pro quo that could be leveraged for higher prescription volume.

Tactic 2: False intimacy

In the same testimony, a marketer summarized his job as the process of discovering what a doctor’s price is. For some, it was fancy gifts. For others, it was attention and friendship.

On the surface, genuine attention and friendship are positive things. Everyone wants those things. It becomes ethically questionable when it’s disingenuous; when attention and friendship become the currency of an exchange, especially one that may have lasting effects on a person’s health.

Tactic 3: Deep data dives

There are vast troves of data available on doctors’ prescribing patterns. A marketer with access to this information can see which drugs a doc is prescribing, how many of them, and how often. This information is hugely useful, helping marketers develop tightly-focused pitches to individual doctors.

And many physicians don’t like it. Knowing that someone is studying their habits, often without their knowledge or permission, is unsettling. Knowing that the information is being used to persuade them is even more troubling.

Be the right kind of marketer

A much better way to success is to build honest, lasting relationships. Understanding the physicians you work with and finding ways to collaborate on marketing initiatives that don’t compromise anyone’s ethics is a recipe for long-term success.

And that’s just what our eBook, The Complete Healthcare Marketer’s Guide to Building Great Physician Relationships”, is all about. In it, we talk about ethical ways to build great relationships with doctors and share loads of practical advice.

Keep an eye out for when it hits the stands!