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Medical Devices: Marketing to Doctors or Patients?

By Kristen HicksMar 15, 2016

healthcare device marketingEvery marketer knows that we need to define our target audience. It’s one of the first and most frequently quoted rules of marketing: Know thy audience.

For medical manufacturers, this gets a little complicated though. On the one hand, the person who needs your products is the end consumer. At the end of the day, it’s their decision about whether there will be a purchase.

On the other hand, most of those end consumers will be much more likely to buy a medical device if it’s recommended by a physician. If the devices you sell are covered by insurance, a doctor recommendation will make the difference in whether many of your potential customers can afford your product to begin with.

So who’s your target audience? Should you be marketing to doctors or patients?

The Case for Patients as Target Audience

Many people used to behave as though doctors had a monopoly on healthcare device marketing information. Sure, there were books available with detailed information on medical conditions, symptoms and treatments, but they were difficult for the average reader to parse and, as such, physicians were the arbiters of all necessary medical knowledge.

Not so today: 77 percent of people in the United States have turned to search engines to find healthcare information. The growing prevalence of self-diagnosis by Internet—an occurrence now common enough to have its own name, cyberchondria —may drive doctors crazy, but it’s a reality the medical industry as a whole must recognize and adapt to.

Some companies have already started adapting. Invacare’s website DoMoreWithOxygen.com speaks to consumers directly with content on subjects like the best foods to eat for lung healthand good exercises patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can do.

patient target audience

While the website’s focused on education, it also has a page for information on specific products Invacare sells and a CTA to call an oxygen expert for more information.

Many patients will still learn of a medical device and their need for it through doctors, but others who choose to take more of the research and decision-making process into their own hands are just as likely to bring that knowledge into the doctor’s office themselves. If you can bring patients to the point of actively asking their doctors about your device, you can expect your sales to go up along with their knowledge.

The Case for Doctors as Target Audience

For most medical devices, doctors hold the keys to insurance coverage, which makes them an extremely powerful part of the decision and purchasing process. Even with more access to medical information at their fingertips than ever before, most patients are still heavily influenced by what they hear from their doctor.

Recognizing this, many medical device manufacturers still keep much of their focus on reaching doctors. Boston Scientific has its products divided by medical specialty on the website, so doctors can easily find all the available products that relate to their field and review the resources on them, such as video demonstrations of how they’re used in common procedures.

marketing to doctors

While creating marketing content to educate consumers now has its place, for many medical devices it’s still important to make sure doctors can find any information they need as well.

If physicians are familiar with your products, their uses and their quality, then you have an important ally in bringing awareness of them to the patients who need them. Part of the physician’s job has always been to gain and keep the trust of patients. If you develop a relationship and gain the trust of one doctor, you’ll by extension gain the trust of the long list of patients they treat, many of whom could potentially become your customers.

Which Is Right for You?

A lot of medical device manufacturers will find that the answer is both—which unfortunately means you’ll need to develop distinct strategies, personas and campaigns for each. That’s double the work, which makes it worth analyzing whether the dual focus is worth the trouble for your business, or if sticking with one audience or the other is the smartest move for you.

Some questions worth asking to get to the bottom of who your audience should be are:

  • How specialized is the need for your device? If the device treats a relatively rare issue and the patients likely to need it will all see a certain type of specialist physician for their care, then sticking with marketing to doctors may pay off most.
  • How reasonable is the pricing for customers if they buy it out of pocket? If you have a device customers could reasonably decide to go ahead and get with or without insurance, then marketing directly to patients makes more sense.
  • Is the barrier to buying more about knowledge of need or competition? If most of the people who would benefit from your device have no idea it exists, it could be useful to focus your marketing on raising awareness if you have the resources, but you’ll likely get more bang for your buck focusing on relevant physicians. If the type of device you make is well known, but you have some stiff competition, then focusing more on the consumer so they’re familiar with your brand before they ever walk into a doctor’s office is worthwhile.
  • Is there anything about your device that’s more likely to appeal directly to consumers? Maybe you offer more fashionable alternatives than your competitors or features that improve convenience. If there’s something your product does beyond the main medical function, then focusing your marketing on patients makes more sense.
  • Have you been losing ground keeping your focus on only one audience? If marketing only to either doctors or patients has kept your sales stagnant, then it’s probably time to branch out beyond the one audience and expand your focus to two.

Patients are your ultimate customers, but for as long as patients trust their doctors enough to turn to them for help with medical decisions, physicians will play a role in your sales as well. Your ideal goal is to win awareness and trust from both, but if your resources are limited, look to which audience is likely to produce the best ROI for your marketing efforts and put most of your focus there to start.

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The Author

Kristen Hicks

Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based copywriter and content marketer specializing in helping businesses connect with customers through content online.
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