Marketing in healthcare has traditionally been the topic of the growing economic and ethical concern.
Where pharmaceutical and healthcare companies seek to develop stable and reliable relationships with their customers, it is not rare that they cross the boundaries of ethical conduct and negatively impact the general image of healthcare. It should be noted, that the current market of health care products and services has undergone a strategic shift, with customers turning into the central element of all marketing strategies.
Nevertheless, the marketing principles to which healthcare organizations and firms adhere still leave much room for improvement and need to be regularly reconsidered and reviewed, to ensure that in their marketing efforts the players of healthcare markets are able to meet and satisfy all customer needs.
The current state of healthcare markets suggests that healthcare organizations are experiencing dramatic shifts in their attitudes toward hospitals, customers, the products they offer, and the marketing principles they use to promote the results of their business performance. As customers, we are personally bound to witness these changes through the prism of the quality of healthcare which seems to be constantly improving.
From the viewpoint of healthcare professionals, though, the dramatic shift in the thinking has changed the focus of all marketing efforts: while previous marketing initiatives were aimed at satisfying specific individual needs of customers, today “rather than considering each interaction with a customer or patient as an individual transaction, the goal is on customer retention or building longer term loyalty” (Berkowitz, 2006).
Customer loyalty and the need to develop continuous relationships with customers have turned into the determining features of healthcare marketing. Firms make everything possible to ensure that they not only satisfy specific customer needs, but work in ways to make customers use the same set of healthcare products and services on a continuous basis.
Certainly, these marketing techniques affect consumer trends. Firms work to develop customer loyalty, and healthcare needs of customers become more sophisticated.
Customers are no longer interested in maintaining their relationships with healthcare organizations on an occasional basis; rather they require stability and continuity of their healthcare efforts, which are impossible without bringing customers, patients, companies, and physicians into a well-integrated system of relationship marketing.
I believe that the idea of relationship marketing is good in itself; it changes consumer attitudes towards healthcare in general, and makes them more active and decisive in expressing their wishes, preferences, and attitudes towards specific aspects of healthcare marketing.
Customers are no longer willing to remain beyond the boundaries of healthcare marketing strategies. They view themselves as the major decision makers and empower healthcare organizations to shift the focus from the set of products they can provide to the set of products, which customers would be willing to buy. These shifts, in turn, result in better responsibility which both consumers and healthcare organizations display toward their individual and social obligations.
The current marketing techniques have also produced irreversible impacts on health care workers. For me, these impacts have mostly been positive. I fully agree to Berkowitz (2006), who writes that “in a customer responsive organization, the employee is empowered to meet customer needs. […]
In a relationship marketing organization, quality extends beyond the clinical side of the service delivery to the entire range of what is sought and experienced by the customer”. In other words, the major market restructuring and the new principles of customer relationships have substantially changed the attitudes which organizations display toward their customers.
Many of them have come to realize the need for developing and delivering true value of their products and services. Others have replaced their situational marketing efforts with the striving to maintain long-term continuous relationships with customers. Health care employees seem to have become more responsible toward everything they do to retain individual customers, and despite numerous inconsistencies which currently characterize our healthcare system, these efforts will not go unnoticed.
They have already created a new picture of healthcare marketing, where organizations seek to go beyond the traditional scope of marketing initiatives, and to develop better customer awareness about the benefits of product and service loyalty.
Unfortunately, not everything is well within the structure of marketing relationships in healthcare. Unethical advertising and marketing remain the topics of major societal concern.
As customers develop a sense of trust toward pharmaceutical companies and physicians, the latter are likely to become the victims of unfair or disguised attitudes which pharmaceutical companies may use to promote their products. The recent case involving Eli Lilly, the biggest exclusive manufacturer of Zyprexa, “which is used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder” (Saul, 2007) suggest that despite the sound changes in marketing attitudes toward customers, the latter still risk being misled by pharmaceutical companies.
The list of those who exploit the benefits of healthcare marketing to satisfy their distorted profitability needs is not limited to Eli Lilly. It seems that the major portion of pharmaceutical companies have been involved into a marketing scandal at least once over the lifetime. I think that even against the positive changes that currently occur in healthcare, the growing customer loyalty is likely to become the object of generating unreasonable profits.
Does that mean that our efforts to improve the quality of marketing approaches in healthcare are initially doomed to failure? I am sure that everything depends on the ways we choose to tackle with these ethical complexities, but it is obvious that healthcare marketing is gradually moving to the point where it will finally serve the needs of customers, and will work to establish a better image of healthcare in general.