Primed with resilient data and analysis, intelligent marketing has the potential to make a big difference, easing the burden on NHS services and driving positive patient experiences. Ingrid Torjesen explains

Marketing is treated with a great deal of suspicion in the NHS. Many trusts persist in believing the adage “every pound spent on marketing is a pound not spent on patients”, despite the value and savings that marketing could bring them.

Chartered Institute of Marketing head of research Mark Stuart says marketing in the health service context is all about extracting greater value from existing resources.

Many metrics used for accounting purposes in the NHS, as well as data collected for performance measurement, can be adapted for use in marketing. Also, detailed patient referral data, available through healthcare information companies such as Dr Foster, allows a number of useful metrics on market share to be calculated relatively easily.

For the trusts that will not buy data, Mr Stuart says it is doubly important to make the data they collect themselves work harder.

Primary care has been increasingly using social marketing to encourage patients to lead healthier lives with the aim of cutting down use of NHS services in the longer term.

Lessons learned

Strategic marketing is a relatively new concept for the NHS, but competition through patient choice means that it is going to be increasingly relied on by trusts and other services wanting to attract patients and income.

While the NHS uses many metrics at national level, managers at trust level have few marketing tools to help them draw useful conclusions from data. However, some commercial sector tools can be adapted and applied.

The commercial sector routinely uses hard metrics such as revenue and profit, soft qualitative metrics such as loyalty and satisfaction, and value or perception metrics such as brand awareness to evaluate the success of marketing and influence future campaigns.

Metrics are also useful for identifying where budgets should be increased or decreased and enable managers to spot trends and see gaps that need to be filled. They can also show which procedures run at a surplus and can be expanded and promoted, and which run at a loss and need to be reviewed.

With the rise of patient choice and payment by results, trusts should consider using metrics to evaluate market share and patient satisfaction because patients will choose to go elsewhere if they do not receive the service they want.

‘Patients look for the tangible things about the service they can identify with. It is almost like they take the clinical excellence for granted’

Mr Stuart warns that while patient satisfaction might not seem as important to a manager or clinician as things such as the number of lives saved, it is what the patient judges their experience by.

“Patients look for the tangible things about the service they can identify with. It is almost like they take the clinical excellence for granted. What leads to complaints is when they start being unhappy about the service they get: the way people spoke to them, the quality of the food or having to pay for car parking.

It is these aspects that can be the differentiator between take-up of services, and thus payment by results income, or potential failure or merger of a trust.

Mr Stuart points out: “If you get that relatively simple measure right you can give yourself a disproportionate advantage.”

Number crunching

A recent publication from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, Measure for Measure: metrics and marketers in the NHS, gives examples of metrics that can be used.

When it comes to social marketing, referral data from companies such as Dr Foster enables populations to be segmented so patients at the greatest risk of a health condition can be identified. By gaining an in-depth understanding of the people in these subcategories - how they live and communicate - these patients can be targeted, and in a way that makes them more likely to respond. This is more cost-effective than running an expensive general marketing campaign giving a blanket health message to the whole population through traditional media sources (see case study).

It is important to collect further data to determine whether the interventions have been successful. Such evaluations also help demonstrate the value of marketing to the wider NHS. Appropriate data for a smoking cessation programme evaluation might include how many calls the helpline received as a result of the campaign, how many callers set a date to quit and how many were still not smoking after four weeks.

Mr Stuart emphasises that the support of the chief executive will be required to change an organisation’s culture of resistance to marketing.

“It doesn’t have to be led from the top down, but the positive culture does have to be cascaded though the organisation. Some of the more pioneering chief executives from places such as Yorkshire and the Humber understand this and are already doing this,” he says.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing is lobbying for a senior marketing figure within the Department of Health and the NHS to champion the importance of marketing.

“We think we need a voice in governsment if we want to change this marketing-resistant culture,” Mr Stuart says.

Risk test: Slough PCT

Although 7 per cent of Slough’s residents were at risk of diabetes, only half were aware of it.

Patients at high risk of diabetes were identified using Dr Foster Intelligence data and tools. Local diabetes patients, acting as volunteer health counsellors, visited these individuals. A mobile testing bus went to workplaces and shopping and leisure centres located in areas with large numbers of high-risk patients. Health information was provided in several different languages.

There was a 164 per cent increase in the early detection of diabetes in the first three months.

Types of metrics

  • Revenue and surplus
  • Segmentation
  • Price
  • Awareness, attitudes and usage
  • Market share
  • Loyalty
  • Satisfaction
  • Communications