Medical marketing has a new face. According to The Oregon Clinic, many specialty physicians who in the past relied mostly on referrals to grow their practices are now effectively using social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to educate and form relationships with patients.
“The healthcare field has changed dramatically since pharmaceutical advertising to patients began appearing in the 1980s,” said Michael Phillips, MD, chair of The Oregon Clinic Marketing Committee. “What used to be taboo is now becoming more popular among physicians. Doctors at The Oregon Clinic are fast becoming proficient at creating their own brand of advertising.”
Designed to generate buzz and expand visibility with the Facebook generation, The Oregon Clinic’s proactive, innovative approaches to marketing and messaging are far from boring. An example of this fresh take on marketing is the popular YouTube video that The Oregon Clinic’s Rock Stars of Gastroenterology (www.screeningisbelieving.com), recently produced. Against the backdrop of Jimi Hendrix-like rock music and a script that noisily delivers the message ‘Screening can save lives,’ the video shows the Rock Stars high-fiving each other as they get ready to perform a colonoscopy.
“The video takes a nerve-wracking subject and makes it humorous by poking fun and describing our group of GI specialists as ‘awesome in a white coat’ and ‘the group that colon cancer doesn’t want to see,’” said Harry Bray, MD, who is one of The Oregon Clinic’s Rock Star GI specialists featured in the YouTube spoof. “It’s an entertaining way to get a deadly serious message out to the community.”
The physicians retained local advertising firm Grady Britton to help create the campaign. Part public service announcement, part promotional campaign, the Rock Stars video was rolled out for Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March 2011. It was aired on the Internet, on YouTube and also on TV in March along with “Hello Colons!” billboards that were hard to ignore. The group is planning more advertising this coming March and September.
“It’s difficult to measure the success of this campaign,” said Dr. Bray. “But we did notice a 60 percent jump in screening colonoscopy appointments between March and September.”
And there’s Bobby Ghaheri, MD, who has branded himself as The Wrinkle Whisperer. With an amusing billboard and an online blog that is both entertaining and educational, Dr. Ghaheri points out the benefits of social media marketing in a healthcare industry where reimbursements are decreasing and physicians are struggling to meet overhead costs. “For those of us who don’t want to cut costs by eliminating new equipment and key personnel, the only option is to see more patients,” said Dr. Ghaheri. “That’s where social media marketing comes in.”
As a board certified ENT specialist, Dr. Ghaheri was required to receive training in facial cosmetic procedures as part of his education, and his blog focuses on both areas of expertise. With 2,900 followers on Twitter [now over 5,500 as of July 2014] and a guest on many other medical and healthcare blog sites, he views social media as a virtual office where he can sit back and communicate with patients in a leisurely and highly personal manner.
Dr. Ghaheri said, “Online advertising and an online presence are more effective for me and enable me to interact with patients. They get to know me and come in to the office to see me. Also, I’ll occasionally run a cosmetic deal on Twitter for people who follow me. If I have a cancellation, I’ll offer 50 percent off to the first cosmetic patient/follower who responds.”
Despite the decidedly nontraditional approach, these physicians at The Oregon Clinic are already singing the praises of social media marketing. “In addition to generating new business, social media is a way to start conversations about health issues and educate prospective patients about research, options and possible outcomes,” said Dr. Bray.
The Wrinkle Whisperer concurs. “Twitter offers me a unique platform where I can connect with my patients and where patients can ask me questions (sometimes anonymously) at any time of day,” Dr. Ghaheri said. “This dramatically decreases the tension around an office visit and paves the way for a truly interactive, patient-centered relationship.”