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4 Tips For Establishing Patient Trust in Healthcare Through Paid Advertising

Patients’ trust in their health care providers (HCPs) is crucial, and paid advertising can play an important role in establishing it. While most adults in the United States trust their doctors, a pair of changes in the last four decades has complicated that picture. The introduction of direct-to-consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals in the 1980s, alongside the social media revolution of the last twenty years, has created an environment that’s hard to navigate for both patients and HCPs. Researchers are hard at work trying to better understand how trust is built and undermined, and the role that paid advertising can play. These four tips offer some useful insights. (1)

1. Learn how to build patient-physician trust

There are two kinds of trust to consider when it comes to paid advertising directed at patients: trust in HCPs, and trust in advertising. This helps to explain why healthcare advertising requires specific expertise. Researchers in both healthcare and marketing look at trust building, and come to conclusions that reinforce one another: customers are navigating uncertainty, and things that help to assuage that uncertainty also help to build trust.

Jonathan B. Imber argues that patient-physician trust requires overcoming three kinds of uncertainty: 

  • Moral: A patient has to trust his or her doctor as a person.
  • Professional: A patient’s trust also depends on a physician’s training and skills.
  • Epidemiological: Finally, patients have to trust the science undergirding their doctor’s skills. 

Without a solid understanding of these three aspects of patient-physician trust, it can be hard for any HCP to build trust with a patient. Even with that understanding, determining how to present oneself can be a tough problem, and it’s something that paid advertising may help with. (2)

2. Learn how to build trust in advertising

Paid advertising can do plenty to help, but it requires an understanding of how to build trust in advertising itself. Plenty of time and energy has been spent determining how best to build trust with potential customers, but tools that can help, such as personalized ads, can also undermine trust if used incorrectly.

In general, transparency may be said to build trust. A team of researchers writing in the Journal of Retailing in 2015 studied ad personalization to see how it impacted consumer trust. Those who knew that their data was being collected were more likely to click on an ad; however, when the means of doing that personalization was hidden, it undermined trust. Not only is that a problem for the advertiser’s brand, it also made their ads less effective. The researchers found that placing paid ads on trusted websites, and acknowledging how they gathered data, both helped to build trust. (3)

3. Understand “institutional betrayal” (and how to avoid it)

When a patient-physician interaction goes wrong, it can undermine not only that patient’s trust in a particular doctor, but in the medical profession itself. This is a phenomenon called “institutional betrayal,” and it helps to explain why marketing practices that can be appropriate for other industries end up posing problems in healthcare. (4)

In an article in the AMA Journal of Ethics, Carly P. Smith outlines a case where a plastic surgeon’s efforts at personal brand building led to negative outcomes. Social media posts created a sense of false familiarity which, due to deceptive marketing practices, led a patient to pursue an unnecessary procedure with which he was ultimately unhappy. (4) 

This makes healthcare branding a tricky proposition—one best handled by someone with the appropriate knowledge and skillset. Otherwise, customers’ expectations may not end up being met, which can lead to more serious problems.

4. Use all the available advertising tools you can

With everything above in mind, and the help of someone with knowledge of both the healthcare industry and advertising, it makes sense to use every tool available. Here are two such tools which can help to establish patient trust if used correctly:

  • Video can help to build patient confidence in HCPs. Watching a video of a doctor speaking may simulate some of the trust building aspects of an in-person interaction, and help patients to feel like they know the doctor in advance.
  • Social media can be a powerful tool to help build a prospective patient’s confidence. Comments describing the patient experience can help someone to feel comfortable with HCPs before they see them physically.

Final thoughts

Establishing patient trust through paid advertising requires an understanding of how trust works and how it can be undermined. It also requires understanding the full range of advertising tools, and how to use them. Taking the extra time and effort to properly execute a paid advertising strategy can make a big difference in the long run, and the tips above may provide a solid foundation.

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