Should Medical Device Companies Market to Patients or Doctors?

how to market to doctors or patients

As patients increasingly take control over their own treatment plans, medical device companies have to decide whether marketing to doctors or patients will have higher ROI.

Every well-planned, expertly-executed marketing campaign begins with knowing your audience — but for medical device manufacturers, getting past that first step can be surprisingly challenging. Medical device manufacturers have two potential audiences: patients or doctors. Determining which of these two to target is one of the most important strategic decisions that medical device manufacturers face, and the answer is rarely clear-cut.

While consumers have the power to bring up a particular medical solution with their doctor and will ultimately decide whether or not to go through with a procedure, the consumer will be far more likely to buy a medical device that comes recommended by a doctor. Additionally, if a device can be covered by insurance, a doctor’s recommendation can determine whether or not the patient will be able to afford the product. All of these factors make it difficult for device manufacturers to decide who their target audience should ultimately be.

Should You Advertise to Patients or Doctors?

Patient centricity is a growing consideration for medical device manufacturers, especially as more and more patients take to the internet to research treatments and conditions on their own. 80 percent of consumers have searched for healthcare information online, and 47 percent of internet users have researched specific medical treatments.

Bringing patients to the point of actively asking their doctors about your device can be a powerful means of driving conversions. “Ask your doctor” ads have been shown to work for pharma, so it’s possible they could work well for medical device companies too.

However, doctors ultimately hold the key to medical treatment, and patients are highly likely to follow their doctors’ suggestions. In fact, a doctor’s recommendation is the single most important determining factor in a patient’s treatment decision. A recent paper showed that patients will drive by an average of six healthcare providers who can offer the same treatment for a better price on their way to the location their doctor recommended; clearly, even in the age of patient centricity, doctors have huge sway over their patients’ medical choices.

Therefore, developing a relationship with and gaining the trust of one doctor can also mean gaining the trust of a long list of patients, making doctors a more efficient target for advertising in many cases. Still, some medical device manufacturers may find that they can benefit from marketing to patients, too.

Five Questions to Consider

Ask yourself these questions to determine if you should stick to one audience, and if so, which one:

  1. How specialized is the need for your device? If your device treats a relatively rare issue, marketing to specialist physicians will likely pay off the most. Reaching the small audience of patients who can benefit from your device will be far more challenging than reaching their doctors.
  2. How reasonable is the pricing for customers if they buy out-of-pocket? If your device is affordable enough that patients could afford to buy it even without insurance coverage, it might make sense to market directly to patients.
  3. Is the barrier to buying more about knowledge or competition? If people don’t realize that a treatment — yours — exists at all for a given condition, it’s likely more efficient to market to doctors first. If the treatment is known but the market is crowded with competition, market to consumers to become a household name that they will request from their doctors.
  4. Does your device have features likely to appeal to consumers? If you offer especially convenient features or are more stylish or subtle than your competitors, it makes sense for you to market to patients. Doctors are unlikely to be as concerned about these features as their patients are.
  5. Have you been focusing on one audience, but losing ground? It may be time to change up your game plan if you’re no longer gaining new customers by marketing to only one audience.

At the end of the day, most medical device marketers will find that they need to advertise to both patients and doctors, but strategies and campaigns must differ between the two parties, requiring agility on the part of marketers. Information about tangible medical benefits and patient outcomes will appeal to doctors, while marketing materials for patients should center on brand awareness and recognition.

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