Healthcare marketing by degree

Monday, March 31, 2008

Need a marketing whiz to promote your products to referral sources or put a positive spin on the value of home care? The University of Southern Mississippi this fall will launch a new healthcare marketing degree, readying students to tackle the increasingly diverse—and booming—healthcare industry. Dr. Mike Wittmann, the university’s Draughn professor of healthcare marketing, says he’s always had his eye on this industry. HME News spoke with him recently about the importance of clear communication.
HME News: How does this program differ from a standard marketing degree program?
Mike Wittmann: Our students are required to take biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology. They might also take health policy, maybe pharmacology. The science is something they’ll have been exposed to that will give them a leg up (when they start working). It allows them to add value to the company faster.
HME: What are the unique needs of the healthcare industry when it comes to marketing?
Wittmann: There is a need for a depth of understanding for what the products are and what they do, as well as how they affect the end consumer—the patient. (Graduates) can clearly demonstrate what a product does for your patients and how it adds value to their lives. They can talk about what this means to your business, how it can generate revenue for you and help your margins.
HME: The HME industry has gotten a bad rap in the press recently. How does good PR remedy this?
Wittmann: In general, PR is reactive and I think that the healthcare industry—and home medical equipment is not unique—needs to be much more proactive in PR. It needs to be viewed as a marketing tool, a way of getting the positive message out. Actively pushing that message and telling a positive story about the value these products bring to customers would go a long way.
HME: Do companies need to create a brand?
Wittmann: Yes. If a company doesn’t create a brand or image for itself, then either someone else will or the company’s customers won’t really know what the company is about. I know a family that owned a mom-and-pop drugstore. This drugstore’s “brand identity” communicated personalized, friendly service. They knew their customers by name and did all of the little things to make people welcome and serve their customers. Their customers knew what to expect, and the brand certainly added value to the business. In fact, their customers were often willing to pay a little more for the treatment they received. HME