The future of marketing departments in hospital-based organizations has become a hotly debated healthcare issue.
On one hand, top management is charged with transforming healthcare systems into lean, mean providing machines. It's natural for many chief executive officers to take a hard look at marketing to determine its role in a reformed healthcare environment. After all, the discipline is viewed by critics as a symbol of what's wrong with the competitive, entrepreneurial model of healthcare delivery. Furthermore, as rival hospitals merge, affiliate or collaborate, there's less need for ambitious marketing efforts.
On the other hand, communication has been and always will be the backbone of marketing. A successful program must analyze the needs of the target audience and determine how best to match the product with the needs of the buyer.
Hospital marketing departments may be at risk, but integral marketing functions such as strategic planning, internal communications and public relations have never been in greater demand. Healthcare marketers should position themselves for the rigors of reform. They should view themselves as communicators first and marketers second.
It's clear that the biggest winners in reform will be integrated healthcare systems that are community-based and highly accessible to patients. Pulling together the forces that make a healthcare system successful requires promotion and education. Marketing executives have the opportunity to expand their roles and responsibilities. Whether it's pricing strategies, community outreach programs, physician relations or local health assessment surveys, marketers-no, make it communicators-have the experience and expertise to contribute.