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I read a great article on KevinMD today called, “Family medicine needs to take advantage of buzzwords.” The article, written by MaverickMD2012, a medical student who blogs at Future of Family Medicine, was an insightful reflection on a radio ad he had heard while driving.

The ad, which spoke of the excellence in cardiac care which is available at a local hospital system, may have slipped by him completely until he heard the name of the facility named as “________ ________ Heart and Vascular Institute.”

Institute? Really?

The article goes on to – maybe rant is too strong of a word – but, certainly question the use of the word institute, simply because it garners the attention of the public in a way that may be, well…misleading.

After all, what actually constitutes an institute?  Specifically, what goes on in an institute that doesn’t happen at other care centers boasting equally qualified specialists, equipment, and facilities?

While I can’t answer for this particular facility (I don’t even know the actual name), I can tell you that the answer is – most likely – nothing.

And herein lies the debate within the marketing of healthcare.  Is it fair to use buzzwords – trendy words that will surely catch the attention of a desired audience – to market healthcare services?

I’ve heard arguments from both sides of this debate.

One side goes something like this:

Strategic marketing (and hence, the use of buzzwords) has no place in healthcare.  Be good at what you do, treat people right, and your clinic will be filled with patients pining for a moment with you and your staff.

The other side goes something like this:

Why is healthcare so different from other industries?  If you strategically market the services of an attorney, or the value proposition of a new car, why should healthcare operate differently?

My perspective lies somewhere in between, but I definitely lean toward the buzzy side of the argument.

I do believe you need to be good at what you do.  Absolutely.  You need to have good people, good facilities and equipment, good knowledge, and you need to treat people right.  Any of these elements, if left out of the experience, will result in inferior care.

The reason I lean slightly buzzy, though, is because the elements listed above the bare minimum…and patients know it.

If patients are not going to come into contact with good people, good facilities and equipment, and knowledgeable providers, they’re going to go somewhere else.  And if you’re not going to provide these elements, perhaps you should too.

Are some providers better than others?  Definitely.

Are some facilities more up-to-date and evidence-based?  Absolutely.

The point, though, is not whether or not there’s a distinction – it’s whether or not patients can see it.  And they can’t. Patients – for the most part – don’t know what services cost, don’t know where their providers went to school, and don’t know how many malpractice claims have been filed against them.

So, in the absence of this transparency, what do we – as healthcare providers – lean on in order to convey our value?

Institutes?  Well, maybe not for all of us, but buzzwords?  Yeah, I think that’s fair game.

Buzzwords, when used correctly, grab the attention of an audience and help them to begin to create a mental picture of what we offer.  In his book, “What is Branding?” Matthew Healy makes the statement that, “Brands grand entry into an imaginary world built by advertising and publicity.”  We’re talking buzzwords here, but for all practical purposes, it’s the same thing – the use of language to create a mental picture.

What do you see when you hear the word institute?  MaverickMD2012 sees “a place where great minds gather to think about things and work on the cutting edge of science and technology.”  I see something similar.

What do you see when you hear the word clinic?  Facility?  Center?

You might see something less appealing.  Maybe something more.

The point is, language matters.  One of my other favorite quotes is from Joseph Addison, an 18th century writer and philosopher who said that, “Words, when well chosen, have so great a force in them that a description often gives us more lively ideas than the sight of things themselves.”

That’s powerful stuff.  And though Addison and Healy weren’t talking just about buzzwords, and certainly weren’t talking about healthcare, it applies all the same.

So if you’re looking for some advice, I’d say – go ahead, buzz it up a bit.  It can be done tactfully, truthfully, and in a way that grows your healthcare practice, organization, or institute 🙂
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Tannus Quatre is a principal and consultant for Vantage Clinical Solutions, a business consulting and management company dedicated to improving healthcare practices through sound business systems, knowledge, and innovation. Tannus writes for numerous healthcare publications and speaks nationally on the topics of marketing, business strategy, and finance in healthcare.