Forrest Gump and Healthcare Marketing

feather on the background of blue sky with space for text

There’s a tearjerker scene near the end of the film Forrest Gump. Following the death of his beloved Jenny, Forrest ponders the meaning of life in his simple, yet wise way:

“I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it’s both.”

As healthcare marketers, there’s a question we need to answer: Are we marketing for consumers, or for physicians?

To borrow from Forrest: Maybe it’s both.

But truth be told, marketing to physicians and telling your story to patients are two different things, though there is some overlap.

Let’s first ponder the physician question. Any hospital, large or small, wants the finest medical staff it can get, from the hospitalist to the physician in private practice.

In a sense, attracting staff physicians is a great deal like a courtship. Both engage in a “getting to know you” dance, to learn if the match is a good fit. And that match includes everything, the surrounding community, the hospital itself and the staff. That’s why hospital recruiters give prospects a dose of the hospital and a dose of the town. If a physician has a family, schools are critical as is overall quality of life.

And, those same physicians want to see quality from the hospital, in staff, in facilities, in patient care, in external marketing and in long-term vision.

The same concerns exist for physicians in private practice, along with the prospects for profitability.

Keep in mind, the physicians in private practice play a big role in your patient population. If that doctor has privileges at your hospital, he will perform his services there. And if the doctor trusts the hospital, chances are, his/her patient will as well. And it’s the start of a potentially long-term relationship.

Remember too, the physician’s professional reputation can be affected by the hospital, and vice versa.

It’s a low-key kind of marketing.

But what about the patient piece of the pie?

As we mentioned, the physician plays a key role. And so does word-of-mouth. We’re firm believers in the late marketing guru Zig Ziglar’s “Rule of 250.” It’s the idea that every person knows at least 250 others –family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. (However, given the advent of social media, that number is larger. According to the Pew Research Center, the average number of Facebook friends for adults in the United States is 338).

A good word of mouth from a relative or friend does as much or more than a well-placed, effective ad. If Uncle Joe or Aunt Martha has a good experience at Kildare Community, chances are you’ll go there, too, but if the reverse is true, consumers will run fast and far.

For community hospitals on a budget, social media is vital because of its efficiency, cost effectiveness and reach. And, using traditional media to tell your hospital’s story can also be invaluable to attract patients.

In small communities where everyone knows everyone it seems, hospital employees can be effective marketers. That’s why bringing the entire team into the marketing mix is vital.

But marketing to both physicians and consumers is critical, where the health care market is competitive. As the world shrinks, that’s every market. Small-town medical centers have to compete with larger hospitals with larger marketing budgets in nearby larger cities.

The diagnosis: When it comes to the question of marketing to physicians or consumers, remember Forrest Gump: It’s both.


For information on how we can help market your healthcare organization, visit: