Is Marketing an Expense or an Investment?

By Sean M. Lynch , VP, Business Development

Care provided by hospital and health systems today have increasingly become more competitive as the result of many market dynamics including but not limited to market consolidation, mitigate decreasing reimbursements, readmission penalties, and increasing costs.

Expanding the pharmacy enterprise to include other levels of care in your hospital can benefit both the system itself and your patients. Not only can it enhance your patients’ overall wellness and patient satisfaction, it could clearly distinguish your hospital from competitors.

But too often, what happens after the new pharmacy service is developed, you forget that you need to tell people about it, including your employees. Pharmacy service marketing is essential to successful strategic goals, both service and economic.  Pharmacy service marketing is unique and deserves, in fact requires, designated marketing attention that cannot be an add-on responsibility of hospital marketing departments.  You didn’t just spend thousands of dollars conducting feasibility studies and then hundreds of thousands on developing that new pharmacy and/or pharmacy service and expect it to start attracting customers, did you?

In order to see a healthy ROI, you have to INVEST money on marketing and promoting that shiny new ambulatory pharmacy and your expanded services. It reminds me of this often-mentioned quote in the advertising world: ” Trying to do anything without marketing is like winking at your sweetheart in the dark, You know what you’re doing but they don’t.”  It’s a fun and cute image to conjure up, but it’s a profound truth in marketing.

Reaching your target audience

 No matter the size of your hospital, the goal of a pharmacy is the same for every institution—to establish the pharmacy as a warm, friendly, and welcoming “brand” for two core target markets:

  • Your employees and their families
  • Discharge patients and outpatients

If your target audience is not aware of the pharmacy, it’s not going to generate extra revenue for you. Your discharge patients, in particular, represent a significant, immediate, and easy-to-capture revenue stream. It’s just not enough to make your target audience aware that there’s a pharmacy onsite.

You need to encourage your audience to only go to the pharmacy to fill their prescription, but to take their medication properly and refill if it’s necessary. According to IMS Health, between 50 and 70 percent of patients will actually go to the pharmacy to fill their prescription. But then about 25 percent of these patients actually follow the proper instructions. And a whopping 80 percent will not refill their prescriptions when they need to.

All of this represents lost revenue for your hospital—it also means that patients may end up back in your hospital which could lead to readmission penalties. You want to keep your bottom line healthy as well as your patients.

Promoting your pharmacy service

To encourage the use of your pharmacy services, we recommend engaging and educating key stakeholders and employees in your health system regarding the value and ease of utilizing your new pharmacy and pharmacy services.

Some of the ways you can communicate the benefits is simply through communications methods such as:

  • Meeting Presentations
  • Medical Staff Newsletter
  • Patient Admission Packets
  • Employee Newsletter
  • Internal and External Press Releases
  • Internal Emails
  • Pharmacy Page Internet
  • Digital Messaging on Internal TV Monitors
  • Rack cards in OP/ Clinic waiting areas

Consider hosting an Open House prior to the Pharmacy opening.. Invite key stakeholders as well as clinical and administrative staff to visit the pharmacy a week before its officially open. Once your staff becomes familiar with your pharmacy staff and the services provided, the more likely they are to utilize themselves and recommend patients to utilize it as well.

All of your internal communications and marketing efforts need to be coordinated and executed prior to the pharmacy opening in order to achieve immediate results and help initiate a behavior pattern for utilizing your new pharmacy and expanded pharmacy services.

Ongoing marketing and communications

Of course, your marketing does not end there. It is not a “once and done event.” You have to constantly market and promote your pharmacy services.

Continue to reinforce the employee benefit, convenience and cost competitiveness of using your hospital pharmacy over the corner drugstore. You may also want to introduce a rewards ,loyalty program to encourage repeat business from your target audience.

There are many ways to promote your pharmacy—and we may get discuss other ways you can do so in a future blog post. The important thing is to do it. This is not ‘Field of Dreams’ where “you build it and they will come”. No, you have to let your target audience know about it and give them a reason to come over and over again.

You have to make an investment in marketing. Those who view marketing as an investment get better results than the ones who couldn’t afford to do it because they believe ‘it costs too much’.

Sean M. Lynch is Senior VP, Marketing, Business Development for the Shaeffer Consulting Group LLC. As a member of our senior leadership team, Sean leads our business development efforts with a focus on providing clients with site assessments, mergers & acquisitions, lease negotiations as well as developing customized strategic marketing initiatives.