Health Care Marketing Matters, Summer 1999

Mind Over Matter

Barbara Bix

Consumer interest in holistic medicine has soared in the last few years.  An ever-growing body of evidence demonstrates that many “alternative” therapies—such as mind/body programs, acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic services—produce desirable health outcomes for a host of medical conditions.  Yet, as we approach the year 2000, most physicians still don’t offer patients alternative therapies as one of their care options.

We see this as a classical marketing dilemma.  As usual, the question is how do we reach the right people with the right message.

To get the answer, we interviewed representatives from 9 of the 15 Boston-based health care institutions with sizable alternative or mind/body health care practices.  Using an interview guide with over 30 questions, we held 30-45 minute long conversations with individuals representing 5 hospitals; 3 independent health care practices; and 1 not-for-profit cancer support organization.  We gave all respondents the opportunity to review and correct the interview notes before publishing this report. 

Our goal: to get a snapshot of how Boston-based health care organizations are marketing mind/body and alternative health care services and learn from them what’s worked and what’s gotten in the way.  Here’s what we found:

Mind powers, yet body towers
One of the most successfully documented areas of “alternative” therapy in western peer-reviewed medical journals is mind/body medicine.  These programs are relatively inexpensive to launch—since they don’t require large capital investments—and relatively cost-effective, especially in the long run, because they emphasize self-care techniques.

Perhaps for these reasons, we learned that mind/body programs are among the “alternative” therapies most likely to qualify for reimbursement here in the Boston area.  Despite these attributes, most of the respondents that we interviewed talked more about provider-administered physical therapies—such as massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic therapies—than they did about mind-body self-care techniques.

Seeing is believing
Most programs in the Greater Boston area started with one individual’s experience with mind/body therapy.  Once converted to its value, this individual became a ready champion for its progress and launched a program to make these services available to others. 

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