Top marketing schools weigh in: Innovation opportunities in healthcare marketing

After recently reporting on the top 13 marketing schools to hire from in the U.S., Becker's Hospital Review reached out to some of those schools to see how they viewed opportunities for innovation within the healthcare marketing field.

Here, six leaders from the nation's top marketing schools share their thoughts on innovation in healthcare marketing.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Jonathan Ketcham, PhD, distinguished research professor of business, Arizona State University (Tempe): Whether young or less young, students are entering a healthcare market undergoing rapid change. For a long time, healthcare organizations could get by without the rigor required in other industries. Now, with changing technology, competition, regulation, payment methods and pandemics, companies are acquiring massive amounts of data. The ones who can figure out what to do with it, especially who the customers are and what they want, will find tremendous success and satisfaction.

The federal government is now requiring hospitals to disclose their prices, companies are applying machine learning techniques to predict where investments and interventions will be most worthwhile, and drug manufacturers are trying new "Netflix-like" pricing models for high-cost biologic pharmaceuticals like [hepatitis C treatment] Sovaldi. Each of these situations, and many others, require people to be able to ask the right marketing questions and answer them with marketing's analytic toolbox. In healthcare, the only constant is change. A career in healthcare marketing will consistently present new challenges as well as opportunities for new learning and growth.

Steve Shugan, PhD, eminent scholar and professor of marketing, University of Florida (Gainesville): I have recently published an article on healthcare competition/marketing. As I noted in the article: "In 2018, the United States spent $3.65 trillion ($11,172 per capita) or 17.7% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) on health care. Health care spending exceeds all federal tax receipts despite record-high tax receipts. Health care spending dwarfs spending in other sectors; for example, it is almost seven times the total of consumer e-commerce spending. The United States spends more per capita on health care than almost every country both in total and as a percentage of GDP." 

Some advantages of a marketing career in healthcare are: you can work for either nonprofits or for-profit institutions; there are many opportunities for business-to-business marketing, selling products and services to physicians, hospitals, pharmacies and many more; you can save lives by helping new medical devicemakers and new drugmakers reach the market in a timely fashion; you can get involved in the real high-tech industry, as many medical devices are cutting edge; you can get involved in major efforts to move artificial intelligence and bring medical software to market; as the population ages, healthcare can only become more important; there is constant innovation in new internal medical devices, new diagnostic devices, new pharmaceuticals, new laboratory services, etc.

I have testified in a number of cases for medical devicemakers as an expert witness in patent infringement litigation. In one case, the company lost the infringement case, but the judge did not order the product withdrawn from the market (which is usual) because it was saving too many lives. The infringing company (which I worked for) was just so much better at marketing that it was able to capture the market even though the original inventors could not. Of course, the infringing company did have to pay damages (which I estimated as did the opposing company).

It is amazing how many new devices are entering the market — wearables, artificial organs, 3D holographic tissue printing, robotic surgery, stents, passive fetal monitors. Every device requires extensive marketing to bring it to market.

Ian Cross, senior lecturer of marketing, Bentley University (Waltham, Mass.): Healthcare marketing is a tremendous opportunity for young marketers in a post COVID-19 world. Marketing is essentially about creating and communicating value between providers and customers. Healthcare providers are becoming increasingly specialized and need to find ways to differentiate their services in clear ways to patients, and they have to use the internet and social and print channels that patients use to find and understand information.

In Massachusetts, we have a large healthcare and biotech industry that offers many marketing challenges — startups, established brands, new products and services, communicating across multiple languages and cultures, outsourced distribution, and complex pricing. What better opportunity for a young marketer to get stuck into!

George Sillup, PhD, chair and associate professor of pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing, Saint Joseph's University (Philadelphia): Opportunities are many and consistent with the innovation goals of the medical device, diagnostic, pharmaceutical and biologic companies and organizations. These include marketing of technologically-based products, such as the no-needle stick monitoring for diabetes. When you consider that marketing also incorporates assisting with the development of new products, it also includes monitoring the progress of clinical studies where technology-based products are assessed for their safety and efficacy as well as participating in the transition of protypic products into those that can reliably and reproducibly give therapeutic benefit to patients. 

Tangential to the actual development and marketing/sales of innovative products, are opportunities to work with other stakeholders in healthcare delivery, payers, providers, policymakers and regulators. An example of such an opportunity is working with the healthcare insurers to determine how the innovative technology will be reimbursed when patients are treated or diagnosed with it.

Don Roy, PhD, professor of marketing, Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro): Students interested in healthcare marketing can explore opportunities working for manufacturers, such as in medical device sales or as a pharmaceutical representative. Service providers — hospitals, clinics and private practices — represent another sector of healthcare marketing with many career opportunities. Marketing communication is a career path that can be pursued across all sectors of healthcare. Companies need social media and digital marketing specialists to execute brand messaging strategies.

Students interested in healthcare marketing careers can consider options in terms of a firm's offering (product or service), job role (e.g., sales, product marketing, social media) or customer relationship (business-to-business or business-to-consumer). College graduates have many options for launching a healthcare marketing career, and the skills developed through education and experience could position them to move into different sectors or roles in the industry as their career evolves.

J. Shannon Threlkeld, senior lecturer of marketing, Indiana University (Bloomington): Recent trends in healthcare focus on serving patients more holistically. Beyond advanced technologies, healthcare companies are looking to serve less obvious patient needs, e.g., the entire family's mental health. This creates the need for innovative marketing ideas in the healthcare field and opens the field to greater demands for young people to enter the healthcare marketing profession.

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