‘The doctor knows best’: Effects of website marketing for medical specialist providers under gatekeeping arrangements

Published on June 18 2017 – Private medical specialist providers often invest heavily in marketing communication. Yet very little is known about the effects of marketing communication by medical specialist providers, also internationally. The present study is one of the first to systematically investigate the effects of website marketing by medical specialist providers on patients’ treatment choices.

A group of Dutch people was asked to image that they were suffering from an unpleasant, but not life threatening, disease, such as varicose leg vein, peptic ulcer, and groin rupture. One group thereafter visited an –existing- website of a Dutch private medical specialist provider specialized in their disease, while the control group visited an existing independent organization’s website about the treatment of the disease.

Visiting the private medical specialist providers’ website initially raised a clearly enhanced interest in choosing the private medical provider for treatment. This effect however disappeared when people were asked if they would ask their family physician for a referral to a private medical provider or would comply with the family physician’s referral to a ‘regular’ hospital. Particularly the group exposed tot he private specialist providers’ websites gave as reason for their choice that ‘the doctor knows best’.

In conclusion, the effect of marketing communication for medical specialist care in countries such as the Netherlands is moderated by trust in the family physician as a gatekeeper for medical specialist care.

Read more: Zwier, S. (2017).’On the doctor’s orders’: A pilot study of the effects of website marketing for medical specialist providers under gatekeeping arrangements. Health Marketing Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1080/07359683.2017.1310551


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