Say “healthcare marketing” to some physicians and you’ll get a look of disgust. Marketing is often a dirty word among the group. And their disdain for marketing has historic roots. In 1847—during the days of traveling medicine shows peddling snake oil cures—the first American Medical Association Code of Ethics stated that advertising was “derogatory to the dignity of the profession.” Licensed doctors took a vow not to advertise because of a collective agreement that it was ethically incompatible with patient care. It wasn’t until a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit in 1975 (Goldfarb v Virginia State Bar), that the American Medical Association removed all prohibitions on advertising—with a restriction against false or misleading advertising.

Turning docs into marketing allies

Unlike the days of old, today’s hospital, clinic and healthcare system marketing isn’t about “selling” cures. Done right, healthcare marketing is about engaging patients, helping them become aware of their role in their own care and informing them of the choices they have for receiving that care.

Getting that message across to physicians can create marketing allies. The kind that can work wonders when it comes time to ask for spokespeople or permission to interview and use patients in marketing materials.

The “three E’s” of creating marketing love

When talking to, involving or presenting marketing concepts or materials to physicians, remember:

Evidence—Physicians deal in science, in evidence and outcomes. It’s important to demonstrate that marketing is grounded in evidence-based research. They need to know why marketing is necessary and what the expected outcome will be. They need to see the numbers.

Emotion—Medical practitioners speak a clinical language when it comes to diagnoses, treatment options and procedures. It’s an important language, however patients don’t necessarily understand or connect with “clinical.” What they do understand and care about is what happens after the procedure or treatment—the ability to be comfortable, happy and return to their life. Demonstrate to physicians that the materials you produce take “clinical” to a level that embraces what the patient is seeking. Show them how your marketing relates to the patient emotionally and how it speaks to the patient in an understandable vocabulary.

Education—Doctors are in the business of helping people. They see dozens of individuals with problems each day—people who may need their guidance and direction. They perform lifesaving procedures. Marketing can effectively give their patients the health information they need. It can inspire their patients to live healthier lives. It can even bring a patient in before a health problem becomes a life threatening or chronic disease. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

Making doctors’ disdain for marketing ancient history is all about helping them let go of their mental image of the traveling medicine show—or the used car salesman hustle—and helping them discover opportunities to successfully present solutions to their patients.