I recently heard a “regenerative medicine” marketing expert (previously a real estate agent) put the hard sell on a room of doctors. While he had some helpful advice for physicians to market their practices, I felt really uncomfortable with the whole thing. A bit like I needed a bath after watching it for 30 minutes. At the time, I hadn’t really been able to place my thoughts into words about what exactly made me uneasy, but while watching my son’s football team on Saturday, it came to me. This guy was trying to turn physician services into widgets and patients into buyers and manipulate psychology to generate more sales of stem cell widgets to patient buyers. Let me explain.
The One Slide That Summed It Up
As I sat there, the speaker threw up a slide that featured the doctor who he was using as a case study of a practice that he had transformed. There was a magazine cover for a periodical called “Regenerative Medicine.” The doctor he was talking about was featured on the cover. I had never heard of this doctor, so it was odd that he was featured on the cover of what appeared to be a major journal or magazine about stem cells. When I got home, I quickly realized that the former real estate agent had made the magazine cover up (and maybe a whole magazine), as nowhere in the first five pages of a Google search did I find any such journal or magazine. Basically, it was a marketing ploy to make the doctor appear to patients that he had gravitas.
To give you some sense of what it looked like, I made up my own magazine cover in PowerPoint and posted it above. This issue features the young Dr. Centeno at about eight years old (yep, that’s really me as a kid)! I’m sure my mother would love to read that issue! Gotta love that fake family crest on the JCPenney blue blazer handed down from my older brother Bob!
What’s Wrong with Treating Physician Procedures as Widgets?
These days, most of our products are made in Asia or India. In the same price range, since the products are generally made in the same factories, there aren’t vast differences between products. Pay more and you get more quality, and pay less and you get less. This is very different from cash stem cell procedures. Here, the quality you get depends on the background education of the physician, whether he or she uses imaging guidance, how much stem cell training that physician has, the quality of what’s injected, how well it’s injected and where, and that’s a short list. Hence, there are vast differences from the lowest quality procedures to the highest, but the pricing is often the same or similar. This phenomenon is really the same throughout medicine, but these differences tend to be accentuated with newer procedures that are just starting that have yet to be added to medical school and residency curricula.
Hence, seeing a pure play marketing guy using a fake magazine cover to convince a consumer that he or she is buying a quality product (this physician’s skills) because he had been lauded in a big magazine spread for his groundbreaking work was disturbing. After looking the physician up, it was easy to tell that he had actually just begun to offer stem cell treatments after taking a weekend course and likely knew far less than any one of my new fellows on day one. In addition, we would never have accepted him on our provider network without substantial additional training.
Why Did This Doctor Need Help Selling His Practice?
The sales guy went through other tricks he had used to sell the doctor’s practice. However, why did he need help? The doctor had zero outcome data on the procedure the patient was buying. No research studies had been done. Did the procedure work? How well? Who knows?
What’s Wrong with Treating Patients as Consumers To Be Manipulated?
While from a marketing perspective, patients may be considered consumers as they’re buying a “product” (the medical service), they’re really quite different. One big difference is that the patient may or may not be a candidate for the procedure being offered. Another critical difference between patients and consumers is that unlike a widget that doesn’t work and costs $20 and is forgotten and later sold for 50 cents at a garage sale, these medical procedures are expensive and investigational. While nobody can guarantee anything close to a 100% success rate, the consent process for the patient is essential. That consent process starts with the marketing that lives on a website:
- How often does this procedure fail? Here, check out our outcome data collected on thousands or hundreds of patients.
- What are the risks? Here, check out our published complications data from thousands of procedures.
- Am I a candidate for this procedure? Here’s a detailed candidacy form that says exactly whether you are a good, fair, or poor candidate and why based on the data we have collected over the past decade.
None of this was available or is available on the ex-real estate agent’s instant websites. Why? Because it’s all a fabrication. You can make anything look good on the surface, but once you peel back the layers, there has to be something there. Where’s the beef?
The upshot? Enjoy your free copy of “Regenerative Medicine” magazine, which this month features the amazing young Dr. Centeno. I think I was learning a lot in third-grade science at the time, so you can definitely trust that I know what I’m doing with a stem cell procedure!