It’s been almost 10 years since I started consulting on healthcare marketing and publicity regulations. I’ve crafted hundreds of campaigns and have given advice on things as ridiculous as where to put clinic refrigerators and what to store in it.
I no longer do medical consulting and simply spend time running a few childcare centres and schools I currently own. But that 10-year journey has taught me a few things. And these insider tips work for:
- Medical Groups
- Medical Suppliers
- General Practitioners
The key thing to note is that medical businesses all come with different obstacles and unique solutions. There is no one-size-fits-all marketing approach. Here’s how to handle the different challenges based on the business type.
Considered the elite of the medical profession in Singapore, specialists also have it the easiest when they go private. As of 2017, there are 1,693 specialists in Private Practice so it isn’t as smooth sailing as the 80s and 90s, but specialists still have many things going for them.
Patient numbers and profitability are rarely a huge issue. Specialists don’t even “need” publicity. Between peer referrals and Medisave/insurance claims, the business will always be stable. What specialists need is not “advertising” but more of “validation”.
These days, just because a peer refers to a patient, it doesn’t mean they fully trust you. Patients today search and research online. You’d need some PR and SEO to maintain a good reputation so patients know you’re a name they can trust. Project a professional image and be seen as an authority or subject expert but do it DISCRETELY. That’s far more critical to specialists than big-scale advertising and marketing.
Unlike doctors, there are no public dental institutions in Singapore. Dentists are forced to compete in the private sector. Also unlike doctors, the base salaries of private dentists are lower, with a bigger commission cut. Coupled with the fact that cross-practice referrals are rare (whatever Dentist A can do, Dentist B can also do), dentistry becomes highly reliant on sales and marketing.
But when every new dentist out there is gunning for the same thing, it creates a highly competitive digital marketing space where only the fittest (or richest) survive. The other challenge is that to convince prospective patients of the more profitable treatments such as braces and crowns, it often requires you to show Before & After photos. This is strictly prohibited by both MOH and SDC.
What you need is to market your clinic through social media, using a mix of images and videos that comply with the PHMC Publicity Act. In addition, an organic search on Google must also bring up a slew of content showcasing your experience and insights. Sounds impossible, but it can be done. After all, we’ve been doing it for 10 years now.
It’s not just about marketing your product. It’s about building up your own name as a known dentist, orthodontist or dental surgeon.
61% of private practices in Singapore are non-specialists (2016), with medical aesthetics being the biggest draw. GP to aesthetics attrition rates have reached an all-time high.
And marketing for aesthetics works. Plain and simple. It WORKS.
However, if you observe closely, you’d realize the same few clinics are constantly packed, while others struggle to get a queue. Of the HUNDREDS of aesthetic clinics in Singapore today, how is it that patients pretty much only go to the same 20-30 clinics?
Because of how effective marketing is for this niche, we’re now caught in a situation where “the rich get richer”. Big boys are not afraid to dump more into marketing to flood out the competition. In fact, from handling such accounts before, I can reveal that many of the established clinics don’t even make positive returns on marketing spend. Much of marketing is done to simply dominate the space and maintain the status quo.
As a newer clinic with less firepower, you’d need to go with smarter, leaner guerilla tactics. This is similar to dentistry, where you’d need to use clever content on Facebook and Instagram to your advantage. The challenge is in being creative enough to craft this content in ways that don’t violate MOH’s regulations.
PS: Did you know there are ways to LIVE stream treatments in compliance with guidelines?
You’d think big medical groups have it easy. But in truth, they have it toughest. The problem is always the same. Medical groups rely on having superstar doctors. These doctors account for the majority of patient revenue at group level.
However, because things are so skewed towards these doctors, others might start to complain about how the group isn’t supporting them enough. To make matters worse, when a group successfully markets and creates a superstar doctor, they leave and start their own private practice! It becomes a tiring and never-ending cycle of attrition and replacement.
A few groups have tried to counter this by turning 180 degrees and marketing the brand instead of the doctors. This is BAD. By creating such an impersonal image, patients don’t feel they’re being cared for as you lack the human touch. Healthcare is very much a people business. The patient-doctor bond is something that is strong, human and cannot be ignored.
The correct solution here is to tie in your doctor marketing with the brand. Also, create a marketing system where the doctors benefit more from the publicity and exposure the group brings compared to venturing out.
Local support. Overseas training. Invitational speaking slots. Business-class tickets. These are just some of the perks suppliers provide to get doctors using their products. But what happens when a new product comes along, or another supplier offers the same product for a lower price? The doctors switch instantly.
Wouldn’t it be better if doctors constantly request your products, instead of hiring a big sales team to beg doctors to buy?
The trick here is to collaborate with partner doctors to also bring publicity for your products and brand. Over time, you NEED to build your brand as a supplier. Other vendors might be able to sell the same products, but they won’t be able to impersonate your brand.
In addition, it’s important to be a source of patient referrals and leads to your partner doctors. Above and beyond the basic benefits you bring, doctors must feel that sticking with your brand gives them DIRECT PATIENTS. Do they at least DOUBLE their revenue by sticking with your brand VS switching to a cheaper supplier? If the answer is “No”, then you should consider working towards that.
Hint: Clinics like to order popular products. You can push new products to doctors, but regulations stop them from advertising with before/after photos and promotions endorsing you. That’s them. You’re not a clinic.
This is very much a location-centric business. It’s also the easiest one to help. Marketing and publicity are NOT important but some visibility is good.
Data from Google shows more than 18,000 people searching for “clinic near me” EVERY MONTH.
All you need is basic 1-time SEO to get your clinic showing on Google’s maps. It probably costs you less than $1-2k and lasts forever.
But do make sure your website content is checked through and vetted by a PHMC Publicity Act regulations expert. Going with inexperienced copywriting and web designers can be a very costly mistake.
There are more than 80 licensed vet clinics in private practice as of 2016. Competition has never been fiercer and clinics feel stuck relying on word-of-mouth.
Pet owners are a savvy crowd, evidenced by more than 10,000 searches on Google for “pet doctor” related services every month. SEO and Google Ads are both effective for vets and there’s no escaping that fact.
But what’s even more effective is social media. This is because it can showcase emotions, which are a major part of the relationship between owners and their beloved pets. However, regulations seemingly restrict testimonials, reviews, photo results and even promotions. Fortunately, if you study the clauses closely enough, there still remains a large number of ways to do all of the above.
Hint: Yes. It’s possible to create 100% compliant, emotional content and push it through Facebook and Instagram to pet owners.
The marketing challenges facing each different medical business are real and very different. However, these challenges are hardly a bad thing. In fact, they’re AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE for clinics that know how to overcome them, acting as a perfect barrier to entry for competitors and rival clinics.
Find a marketer that is also a consultant for healthcare publicity regulations and you’d start to realize just how powerful medical marketing in Singapore can be.