Monday, April 16, 2012

Is marketing a healthcare provider ethically also 'ethical?

I was at Raipur & Korba, Chattisgadh last few days to promote 'Ekohealth' through road shows. I had interesting interactions with the medical fraternity & other stakeholders. A lot of them were surprised when I told them that Ekohealth will not take any 'cut' from them if Ekohealth patients come to them.
I said that someone had to begin ethical medical practice as unethical practice of referral fees is degrading the competence & faith in such a lovely profession.
On this many practitioners put forward their pain points on how difficult it is to get patients without referral fees.
Obviously, much of medical establishment is driven by doctors turned owners. Almost all of them are uncomfortable working for 'others'.
This creates a problem. Almost none of them get time to write about their good work, give adequate attention to patients & this leads to a degrading practice over a period of time. Such doctors who were busy earlier are find lesser patients coming to them in many centres. They never invested in themselves.
They never took opportunity to 'brand' themselves through publishing articles, creating patient forums, taking customer feedback & thus loosing an opportunity to act on it for appropriate course correction.
This also leads to a desperate 'spegheti' marketing & advertisement which is unethical in a lot of ways, but also unfruitful. So I have always propagated my belief of handholding your patient as a 'customer' who expects 'satisfaction' like any other purchase of a product. Today customer is smarter than before & therefore the patient too, as they both are the same.
One elderly gentleman during my interaction pointed out that in this case even writing articles, telling people how many amazing surgeries you have done, clinical outcomes etc is also 'marketing' & is therefore unethical. And he was very uncomfortable with patient being termed as 'customer'.
On this I deliberated that doctors are themselves to blame for it. They made patients customer the day they started encouraging a 'referral fee'. This ultimately made costs higher & patient started counting value for the buck. This also paved way for more professionally run corporate setups.
I told him that its absolutely fair that one's achievement be known to patients, else how would he know?
And unless you write on internet or contribute to various publications sharing your research outcomes, & learnings from the experience how would your peers & patients know you exist. Writing well would increase confidence among all stakeholders & create ethical peer referrals & direct patients.
I think he was convinced in the end.
Dr Akash S Rajpal
Ekohealth Management Consultants PVT LTD

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