Marketing to Baby Boomers Calls for Emotional Link, Focus on Health Issues

Marketing to Baby Boomers Calls for Emotional Link, Focus on Health Issues

Marketing a medical group successfully to baby boomer patients takes much more than simply hanging out a shingle in a specialty strongly related to the health needs of people over 50 years old or planning retirement. Like marketing most other services, it takes establishing an emotional connection with the potential patient, says consultant Paul Stevenson of MedTactics in Arlington, Va.

The baby boom is generally defined as people born from the end of World War II through 1964, so the oldest ones are 56, and the youngest ones are in their upper 30s. Many hospitals, large groups, drug companies, medical device makers and alternative health firms already have sophisticated and aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at the needs and emotions of patients over 40, 50, 60 and 70, depending on the service or item being offered. In the background behind these campaigns priming — patients for the specific messages that come from medical providers — are health awareness up dates and campaigns from the government, media and non profit groups about re search and care for the major health problems in those age groups.

Among the most prominent examples of such marketing and awareness campaigns are:

* Comprehensive breast centers focused on the detection and treatment of breast cancer; combining radiologists, oncologists, surgeons and mid levels in an outpatient setting, often financed by hospitals.

* Women’s health centers, often based in ob/gyn groups, and focused in part on conditions of middle age and older, such as menopause and osteoporosis.

* Prostate and colon cancer awareness designed to bring in patients over 50 for regular checkups.

* Healthy lifestyle education, often particularly focused on preventing heart disease and related conditions such as diabetes and gout. These often emphasize exercise and good diet, as well as cholesterol and blood pressure control.

* Awareness about Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions, which emphasize controlling or delaying such diseases.

Stevenson says baby boomers have “very different expectations than earlier generations as to both customer service and care,” including communication and concern for the individual patient.

Boomers also view their health and likely future differently, he says. Most people over 65 had a “linear lifestyle” — they worked and then they retired. Many boomers are going back to school, or starting businesses or second careers.

In part because of the omnipresence of today’s commercial culture, boomers “expect to be treated [by physicians and other providers] more like other businesses,” Stevenson says. Providers should “combine marketing efforts with customer service.” For instance, it’s important to minimize wait time in physician offices, and payers have to loosen the strings on referrals to specialists.

As is true of younger patients, he adds, many boomers prefer businesses — including medical practices — that have a presence on the Web. Groups and hospitals with affiliations to one another should strive to “project a similar look and feel in their Web sites,” akin to brand identification of consumer products.

Web sites can, of course, assist directly in customer service on appointments, prescriptions and referrals to specialists, labs, imaging centers and outpatient surgery

So far, this kind of “virtual integration” is not yet the norm, he notes. A recent survey of the 25 largest medical groups in Philadelphia found that only 10 or 11 had Web sites, all but one affiliated with a hospital.

Establish Empathy with Patient

Many baby boomers want more of a peer relation ship with their physician, rather than the almost oracle like treatment physicians traditionally received, says Stevenson. Some boomers want to call their physician by his or her first name.

These people ask what kind of person the physician is, he says. If patients are from large families, they may ask whether the physician is, too. They want to know the physician’s special medical interests, not just where the physician went to school. Is he or she particularly interested in the endocrine issue that concerns the patient?

“You’re trying to create an affinity between the patient and the physician,” he says, “or reach the point where the patient has the feeling that there’s a high degree of empathy with the physician.”

Closely related to this affinity, boomers who are very sick want to feel that their physician is fighting for them. And they want to participate in fighting the disease.

Boomers, especially those with money, want to go to the very top physicians — and believe that participation in research trials is an indicator of that, says Stevenson. Physicians involved in research should let their patients know in an appropriate way. And such physicians often find that the ads they place to get research patients pull in many regular patients. “The value of the ad is like a good article written about you, rather than a physician who’s advertising,” he explains.

Target the Boomer Market

A group seeking to market to boomers needs to position itself as serving them, Stevenson says. Within groups, it is usually the younger physicians whose practices most need this kind of positioning.

Direct mail is one way to do that, if used correctly. A group can purchase lists of people in that age group in its service area, or who have recently moved there.

Boomer patients who need a physician are going to ask, “Which physicians see patients over 50?” he notes. Noninvasive cardiologists and internists who do both basic cardiology and general medicine should get them selves on those lists. To target older patients, an internist may identify himself or herself as a geriatrician.

A strategy for non primary specialty groups located in cities is to build a strong expertise and reputation for certain subspecialties, and then make sure PCPs in surrounding rural areas know of your expertise in order to maximize referrals.

Still another strategy is to speak to clubs and civic organizations, or do educational seminars for hospitals. “We’ve had physicians tell us that this sort of activity has been very effective” in pulling in new patients, he says.

Contact Stevenson at (703) 522 8450 or

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