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An HIT Moment with … Ford Phillips

January 27, 2010 Interviews 5 Comments

An HIT Moment with ... is a quick interview with someone we find interesting. Ford Phillips is the owner of River Bend Marketing.  


How is healthcare IT marketing different today than it used to be?

Technology and social behavior are the driving forces behind the changes in marketing. In the mid-70s when I started, we had limited media at our disposal, so I used multiple forms of direct mail and print advertising to get my marketing messages to potential clients. Of course, we used press releases, but they served a different purpose during that era. Printing and postage were inexpensive and print ads were reasonably priced. We lived for the postman’s daily delivery of our BRC cards.

There were only about five or six trade magazines focused on healthcare at that time. Modern Healthcare came along in 1976, I believe, and Computers in Hospitals started in 1980. That magazine is today’s Health Management Technology. I was a charter advertiser in both of those magazines.

The advent of the Internet in the early 1980s changed everything, including marketing. Web sites became a company’s window to the world and e-mail addresses assumed a “golden glow.” Today almost every marketing medium my company uses is electronically generated and distributed.

For all of my clients in 2009, I did one large, print direct mail campaign. Everything else was electronic. Almost everyone one of my clients is using some form of social network marketing, something unheard of just two or three years ago. The methodology has changed in 30 years, but objective has not — get the right message in the right hands as cost-effectively as possible.

People often think that "marketing" and "advertising" are the same thing. How would you explain the difference?

People mix up the definitions because they do meld together in the minds of most people. That said, I have always used the following definitions for marketing and advertising. Marketing entails creating and communicating specific messages that position a company and its products’ value, features, and benefits in such a manner as to create a need for that product in the minds of potential end users.

When you pay to get that message disseminated through any medium, that’s advertising.

ARRA has unleashed a flurry of vendor press releases and programs such as interest-free loans and certification guarantees. What impact has this had on vendors and their prospects?

I have read all of the offers. The vendors are simply trying to use the smell of government money to attract as many prospects as possible. Some of the vendors are sounding a little desperate. An interest-free loan? Their products must be extremely expensive. And, how can you guarantee something that is still unknown?

I’m certain the poor physicians are as confused as ever about the benefits of EMRs. EMR technology has been available, in some form or other, for a good while. The percentage rate for adoptions is still in the teens. There must be multiple reasons for that.

The economy is down, but healthcare IT is up. How has that affected your business? What are the right and wrong marketing actions that vendors might take in response?

The majority of my clients see the benefits of continuing a strong marketing communications program in any economic environment. We lost a few clients at the beginning of the downturn. Most of those were due to reduced investor financing.

The right thing to do in a down market is the right thing to do in an up market. In a nutshell, keep your marketing communications program focused. Identify three or four optimum marketing messages and target those messages to prospects who you know can benefit from your product.

Stay on your messages; don’t dilute them. Use the most cost-effective and varied communications strategies you can afford to disseminate your marketing messages to the target audiences.

What are the most important things about the healthcare IT market that new entrants and startups should know?

Be flexible in your planning and execution and be prepared to change directions quickly. Nothing will remain the same, industry-wise or technology-wise. If you remain flexible and can adapt to change, you will be successful in the healthcare marketplace. Not a single technology platform that my clients’ products use today was even envisioned when I started in this industry 30 years ago.

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Currently there are "5 comments" on this Article:

  1. Very nice interview. I really enjoyed it. Interesting to look at the change in healthcare IT marketing over time.

    I’d be interested to hear more about Ford’s thoughts on blogs and the impact they have on healthcare IT marketing. Does he use them and what would it take for a blog to reach the big name advertisers?

  2. Dear Ford,

    I appreciate your candidness. Your insightful comment “I’m certain the poor physicians are as confused as ever about the benefits of EMRs. EMR technology has been available, in some form or other, for a good while. The percentage rate for adoptions is still in the teens. There must be multiple reasons for that.”

    You are spot on. The doctors are poor after they purchase the technology that leaves them confused and their patients wanting face to face time without a computer terminal occupying their doctor’s attention.

    Have you written to Blumenthal to tell him to keep menaingful use simple?

  3. And those “poor physicians” who’ve bought into the vendor guarantee, to find out now that because of hospital ownership, these guarantees no longer mean money in the EP’s pocket?

    Or did I misunderstand the definition of “EP”? To exclude those who work under the hospital umbrellas?

    Many providers have jumped into the hospital employee relationship, for various reasons. Will they now jump ship?

  4. Mr. HIStalk, thanks for giving healthcare marketing some love on your blog. I agree with Mr. Phillips’s comments about the purpose of marketing being the same today as it was 30 years ago. I think he would also agree with me that marketing in general and healthcare marketing specifically has undergone a fundamental shift. Why? Because consumers have changed.

    The number of media outlets has not only expanded; audiences have fragmented. No longer can you expect a consumer’s rapt attention on a few networks, on a few magazines, or on their local newspaper. Consumer attention is valuable, and consumers know it. I daresay your readers understand their new empowerment more than any other market in health care. Marketing tactics have definitely changed, but marketing strategies must also change if healthcare vendors are to have any hope of persuading the empowered consumer.

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