The Doctor-Hospital Branding Conundrum

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Consumerism is a mega-trend that is reshaping healthcare, and the internet has made it easier than ever to access endless sources of information. However, one area that lags behind all others is information and reviews about doctors, particularly here in Asia.

In the US, websites like Healthgrades, Vitals and WebMD provide consumers an independent source of information about doctors so that they can verify credentials  and validate the experiences of others. According to Healthgrades, 90% of patients use online reviews, 80% of customers trust these reviews as much as a personal recommendation and 77% use these online reviews to find a new doctor.

Here in Asia, most hospitals have information about their doctors, but the quality of those profiles tend to be weak when you take into account that 88% of patients view ‘clinical expertise on my condition’ as a ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important reason for choosing their doctor.

Doctor profiles are a key touchpoint for customer engagement. So why do hospitals invest in the doctors, but paradoxically spend so little on branding them to their full potential.

Data shows that more people are using online channels to search and vet doctors, creating an unparalleled opportunity (or challenge) for providers to improve doctor branding. But doctor branding is a double edged sword for hospitals. Heavy promotion of doctors can lead to unintended consequences that create friction between the hospital and the doctors.

This creates a conundrum: how to promote doctors without eclipsing the hospital brand? Despite the challenges, the opportunity to pivot doctor branding from a lose-win scenario to a win-win solution is available. Let’s start with the facts:

  • The doctor appointment/referral is the start of the hospital’s revenue cycle. Nothing happens without seeing a doctor first—no orders are made, no medicines are prescribed and no admission is approved. So if the doctor is the start of the clinical journey, then it stands to reason that making doctor search-find-connect should be priority number one.
  • The doctor search starts online. If the clinical journey starts with the doctor, then the customer journey starts with Google. Anything that improves search ranking improves the chances of selection.  If doctor profiles are not optimised for search, internal and external, then ranking suffers.
  • Consumers rely on reviews and ratings for everything—restaurants, appliances, cars, etc.  Reviews and ratings are social proof mechanisms that help consumers make informed choices, but hospitals avoid physician reviews and rating at all costs, because they open a Pandora’s box of problems.

Ask any hospital CEO why patients choose their facility, and virtually every one will list their doctors as one of the top three reasons. Now ask the same CEO how much they invest in doctor branding and marketing. Typically the amount is negligible. There is clearly a disconnect between input and output, and much of it boils down to tactical execution. How to do it?

Bottom line, doctor branding and hospital branding are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, smart doctor branding creates a virtuous cycle that impacts reputation, improves search and enhances customer experience.


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