Is there a doctor in the house?

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Most industries still have far to go to rebound from the economic downturn of the past three years. That's not the case with the health care industry, which by most accounts is recession-proof and has been posting booming revenues year after year.

The key markets within the health care industry that seemingly everyone wants to reach are physicians, hospitals and other medical institutions that directly interact with patients-with whom the demand and the revenues reside. Pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment manufacturers and even office supply companies all actively vie for the attention of doctors and medical administrators who make big purchasing decisions.

Currently there are more than 600,000 licensed medical doctors providing care in the U.S., according to the American Medical Association.

With the rise of managed care to offset insurance costs and generate economies of scale, more doctors are banding together out of financial need to form sophisticated group practices, said Vince McMorrow, director of public relations for Columbus, Ohio-based RMD Advertising, which operates a very aggressive health care marketing practice.

"The end result is they are more business-savvy than ever, which is good news for us that market to them. Many of these groups have dedicated purchasing managers, or at least office managers, who are better equipped to receive marketing messages and sort through the ones their physician partners will be most interested in."

Hospitals easier than practices

Hospitals, as well, are far easier to market to than small doctor practices, said Paula Luckring, senior VP-marketing and customer services group for Siemens Medical Solutions. "However, institutions of size are generally looking for total solutions to their problems, whether it be medical imaging systems-such as we market-lab equipment or waiting room furniture," she said. "And you'll also be marketing to a wider range of decision-makers, ranging from C-level types-including chief medical officers-to medical departments to IT staff. It takes unique and powerful products with strong added-value benefits to get you noticed."

There are about 2,800 large hospitals with more than 150 beds in the U.S., according to Siemens research. Additionally, there are 4,100 community hospitals with 150 beds or fewer. Other important targets for marketers to the medical community are the almost 3,500 diagnostic imaging centers, 1,100 cancer centers, 2,900 outpatient surgery centers and 24,000 medical group practices.

So what are the best ways to reach and get the attention of these targets?

"They want to hear three things from marketers," Luckring said. "We can save you money. We can save you time. We can significantly improve the level of care you give your patients. It's as simple as that."

As for where you best reach these busy medical professionals, industry experts agree that most do take the time to read journals and publications and attend conferences that are relevant to their specialties. "Having a product examined in a peer review journal can have an enormous impact, as can participation at a peer event," McMorrow said.

Journals and events routinely have Internet counterparts that provide added convenience for physicians and administrators. According to Manhattan Research, 83% of all physicians access the Internet daily, 42% have a practice Web site, 24% of those who regularly go online use e-mail to communicate with their patients and 57% recommend consumer Web sites to patients.

"The trick in reaching doctors online is that they don't sit behind a desk all day looking up stuff on the Internet," said Manhattan Research President Mark Bard. "They're very selective about where they visit and what they read. They look at information on new products, they learn about new procedures and they visit the home pages for whatever medical societies they belong to."

Drug companies online

For instance, WebMD's kind of aggregate site that has information on a wide range of medical specialties-is the No. 1 online destination for practicing physicians, Bard said. "Drug companies, in particular, have been very active about using online marketing to reach physicians and hospitals," he said. "They even offer training and educational sessions online instead of having their reps meet one-on-one with doctors."

One-on-one sales efforts, however, remain vital to the marketing process, Luckring said. "The connection needs to be made between building awareness with advertising and PR and building personal relationships. The relationships are inevitably what will give you the sale."

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