|MISSION HOSPITAL SECTION
|Year : 2014 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 123-127
Marketing rural hospitals
Director - Medical Services, SEESHA, Samiti for Education, Environment, Health and Social Action, Burrows Memorial Christian Hospital, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India
|Date of Web Publication||11-Jun-2014|
Director of Medical Services, Samiti for Education, Environment, Health and Social Action, Alpha 5, Karunya University Quarters, Karunyanagar, Coimbatore 641 114, Tamil Nadu
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
The word marketing if used in the context of rural hospitals raises many eyebrows. Business and corporate hospitals are comfortable with it, whereas in rural or mission setting, which is service-oriented, the word might even be considered "bad" word. However, marketing is essential for both rural and mission hospitals to enable the optimum use of the services that are provided. This article is about the marketing lessons learnt from the transition story of Burrows Memorial Christian hospital in Assam in northeast India and Samiti for Education, Environment, Social, and Health Action Karunya Community Hospital near Coimbatore. The diagnostic camp model is one of the best ways of marketing rural hospitals.
Keywords: Diagnostic camps, marketing, rural hospitals
|How to cite this article:|
Jesudian G. Marketing rural hospitals. CHRISMED J Health Res 2014;1:123-7
| Introduction|| |
During the last few decades, many mission hospitals are closing down. People question the relevance of the mission hospitals these days. However, there are hospitals like the Lady Wellington Hospital in Manali, which are doing excellent work.  Despite their excellence, being situated in the rural areas has disadvantages. Patients prefer to go to urban areas for better medical facilities although they are expensive and might not be good.
The word marketing if used in the context of rural hospitals raises many eyebrows. Business and corporate hospitals are comfortable with it, whereas in rural or mission setting, which is service-oriented, the word might even be considered "bad" word. However, marketing is essential for both rural and mission hospitals to enable the optimum use of the services that are provided.
This article is about the marketing lessons learnt from the transition story of Burrows Memorial Christian hospital (BMCH) in Assam in northeast India and Samiti for Education, Environment, Social, and Health Action (SEESHA) Karunya Community Hospital near Coimbatore.
[Figure 1] shows the change at BMCH from 17 lakhs turnover to 264 lakhs turnover in 10 years and the surgeries from 92 per year to 3685 a year.
Aim of marketing
In general, the aim of marketing is to identify the customer's needs and to meet those needs so well that the product almost sells itself. Unlike the urban hospitals, it is very important for the rural hospitals to identify the needs of the patients and address them.
One of the most important steps in marketing is to gather data to find out what the patients want or need. This would help in proper planning. The following were the ways in which the data were gathered.
[Figure 2] shows the focus group discussions in the villages that are very important tools for gathering information for rural hospitals. Lots of unexpected and unusual findings crop up.
|Figure 2: Gathering data from the doorsteps using focus group discussions|
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Staff meetings and department meetings help to gather important data. The nursing students are very sincere and honest in their work. They have research projects as part of their curriculum now. This could be utilized to get patient satisfaction surveys and other important studies to be carried out.
After gathering data, the next important step is to plan the strategy of marketing the hospital. Several brainstorming sessions are necessary before working out the strategies. [Figure 3] shows some of the important strategies.
|Figure 3: Important marketing strategies (Using satisfi ed patients, using existing marketing systems and directly reaching target population)|
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Patients are satisfied if their needs are met. The needs are physiological needs, psychological needs, desired needs, and freedom from hassles. It is good to have a public relations officer for the hospital even in rural areas and carry out patient satisfaction surveys.
Satisfied patients are the most important advertisement for any hospital. Special attempts are made to address these needs that arise from the surveys. It is good for the administrator and the public relation officer do rounds like the doctors do rounds at the hospital.
The following could be carried out to have satisfied patients
- Allocation of patients to nurses to explain to the patients why the investigations are ordered and details of surgical procedures, the need for admission, the discharge information, and so forth
- Grand rounds with all the concerned department staff [e.g. X-ray, laboratory, Operating Room (Operation theater) staff, etc., so that they know what the patient needs]
- Welcome and get well cards, seasonal fruits and flowers, and small take home gifts, and so forth are very much appreciated
- Carrying out exit surveys help to understand what the patients remember most after they leave the hospital. For example, if they are not happy about the billing staff while leaving they will forget all the good opinion they had about the doctors and nurses, and so forth
- Health education especially with locally made videos reduce the communication gap and provide a better service to the patients.
Using existing marketing systems
Brand name is important in any marketing. Well-known brands are dependable and available and quality is assured [Figure 4].
|Figure 4: Brand names are important for rural hospitals too especially names like CMC Vellore and if consultants from there are available to give more credibility. CMC = Christian mission college|
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Yellow pages are often used by people especially in towns. Studies have shown that 84% of yellow page references are followed by act. Hence, it might be a good idea to advertise in them the facilities that are available. Newspapers are popular even in rural areas especially in the tea shops. Advertisements are expensive; however, news articles, press conferences, and medical articles published in newspapers offer a less expensive means of marketing.
Local medical practitioners including the non-allopathic doctors (or even the so-called village doctors) are important in referring patients especially the surgical patients. Continuing medical education provided to them goes a long way in assuring them that you are not interested in their routine patients but want them to refer patients intelligently.
Medical representatives are paid by the respective companies to meet the doctors. They are more than happy to get more incentives. They could be used as means for advertisement by enrolling patients for health care plans, and so forth.
The local church and others like Kristian Thalai Pawl (KTP) in Mizoram, Tripura Baptist Christian Union (TBCU), catholic churches, Gospel for Asia (GFA) churches, and so forth, in Tripura are good platform for advertisements.
Unexpectedly even in rural areas the local shops and internet cafes are very good in enrolling patients for the health insurance program and for making prepaid plans of the hospital.
The mobile phone could be used too as a marketing tool [Figure 5]. Consultations could be booked and follow-up data could be obtained. At SEESHA a special register is there for recording the calls to the discharged inpatients.
|Figure 5: Mobile phones are excellent for marketing, espcially if programmed to send automatic messages|
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Contests and tournaments are often appreciated by people; they receive a lot of media coverage too.
Directly reaching the target population
The diagnostic camps were one of the things that helped BMCH a lot. All the diagnostic facilities that are available at the hospital are taken to the remote villages [Figure 6]. A total of 75% of the surgical patients were diagnosed for the first time in these diagnostic camps. Without these diagnostic camps those patients would not know that they could be treated with surgical procedures.
|Figure 6: In the diagnostic camps, all the diagnostic facilities available at the hospitals are taken to the villages and three - fourths of the surgical patients were diagnosed there|
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Live relay of surgeries helped BMCH a lot [Figure 7]. The principle to follow is that "Unusual things attract people". Various innovative skills of the staff could be used for this purpose.
Many patients saw the recorded health education materials before the surgery record of patients and came for their surgeries at BMCH.
The hospital calendars were helpful in reaching out to many friends and visitors of the patient's families.
Documentary about the hospital that was shown in the local television was again very helpful as were the newspaper articles and articles in magazines [Figure 8].
Meeting the needs of the local people especially in times of floods in the area was a very useful marketing tool [Figure 9].
Film shows in the villages with liquid-crystal display (LCD) projectors and video camera is an attraction, especially if you go beforehand to film the local place and the people and show them on the screen. Marketing uses the AIDA model (attention, interest, desire, and action model), and this could be innovatively applied to the rural hospitals too. 
Branding is one of the most useful marketing tools. A total of 82% of the world population is aware of the Coca Cola brand of soft drinks. Coca cola has reached even the remote areas of our country.
| Summary|| |
Of all the marketing methods we found the diagnostic camp model the best advertisement for the hospital, especially with regard to surgical services.  We have carried out these diagnostic camps and surgical camps for over 3 decades in remote areas in Gujarat and northeast India. The first publication regarding these camps received the Barker Memorial Prize given by Tropical Doctor in 1997.  It was possible to take advanced surgical procedures to these remote rural areas.
The study of BMCH published in Indian Journal of Surgery  showed that the model is financially viable. Donations were necessary only for the capital items. Many patients in rural areas benefited from minimally invasive surgical procedures.
In another study published in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Surgery,  calculations showed that more than half of the patients who required surgical intervention for prostate disease did get the necessary treatment with this model.
The advantages of this model are many:
- It is a cost-effective model that has existed for over 3 decades. Funds are necessary only for the capital needs
- About three-fourths of the patients requiring surgical intervention were diagnosed for the first time during these camps in remote rural areas. The ultrasound examinations and scopies contributed a lot to the diagnosis of surgical conditions
- The surgical camps offered a great way for training the local surgeons and trainee surgeons, as there were many more surgical patients during the camps
- Thousands of patients were able to have modern minimally invasive surgeries at a very nominal cost
- Various innovations were possible during these surgical camps. Many articles were published in national and international journals from the findings and innovations made during these surgical camps
- The model has been successfully replicated by others.
| References|| |
|1.||Alexander PV, Alexander AP. Developing healthcare infrastructure in remote areas in response to the local needs. CHRISMED J Health Res 2014;1:40-4. |
|2.||AIDA Marketing. Wikipedia. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIDA_(marketing) [Last accessed on 2014 Feb 14]. |
|3.||Gnanaraj J. Diagnostic and surgical camps: Cost-effective way to address surgical needs of the poor and marginalized. MD Current India | Published: JAN 2014. Available from: http://mdcurrent.in/ primary-care/diagnostic-surgical-camps-cost-effective-way-address- surgical-needs-poor-marginalized [Last accessed on 2014 May 8]. |
|4.||Gnanaraj J, Gnanaraj L, Shah VK. How to bring surgery to remote tribal areas. Trop Doct 1997;27:163-5. |
|5.||Gnanaraj J, Jason LX, Khiangte H. High quality surgical care at low cost: The Diagnostic camp model of Burrows Memorial Christian Hospital. Indian J Surg 2007;69:243-7. |
|6.||Gnanaraj J, Gnanaraj L. Transurethral electrovaporisation of prostate. A boon to the rural surgeon. Aust N Z J Surg 2007;77:708. |
[Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6], [Figure 7], [Figure 8], [Figure 9]