Insights: Ethical Healthcare Marketing for Doctors in South Africa

From the challenges of setting up a private practice to the pressure and uncertainty of NHI, this is why SA doctors need to start focusing on marketing right now – plus: how to get healthcare marketing for free.

Ophthalmologist's Department

It’s no secret that many South Africans have lost trust in the country’s healthcare system. If anything, the recent pandemic has highlighted how lower-income groups tend to avoid or “go without” healthcare. 

This is coupled with a private-healthcare-seeking behaviour among a large portion of the country’s middleclass and upwards – even if they don’t have medical aids and need to pay out of pocket. See the current healthcare landscape in SA...

A snapshot of the Healthcare landscape in South Africa.

At the same time, some 50%–70% of SA’s doctors are underpaid and nearly 1 000 doctors are unemployed (including some 200 post-community service doctors at the start of 2023). All while up to 38% of South African Medical Association (SAMA) members said they plan to leave South Africa to find work in Canada and Europe.

(Learn how medical aids could reduce out-of-hospital costs by R3bn per year.

The only viable option for many doctors in SA? Private practice.

The Challenges of Medical Private Practice in SA

Creating a successful new private practice is easier said than done, though. According to a SAMA-funded research paper, just the operational costs of setting up a private practice can run anywhere between  R858 201 and R2.2m per year, depending on locality and specialisation.

And that’s just the running costs of seeing between 24 and 36 patients per day, it doesn’t include any remuneration for the doctor themselves. (Meaning you could spend all day seeing patients and still make zero money at the end of the month.) And, as far as we can tell, it doesn’t include any competitive healthcare marketing – so there’s no guarantee you’ll even be able to attract 24 patients per day.

The Pressure on Solo GPs

To put even more pressure on doctors, government’s NHI – needed as it is to address inequality in healthcare – in 2016 proposed that government will only contract out “accredited provider groups”. 

This would exclude solo GPs from NHI altogether. Or, at least, force solos to create group practices and collaborate with other doctors.

Now, there’s no readily available proof government has reversed the policy to exclude solo GPs in NHI, but even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have/will, 24.2% of SA doctors still say they don’t fully understand how the NHI funding model will work for them.

In essence, you’d be “contracted’ by government to service a certain amount of patients. Yet patients can go wherever they want, so you might not be assured you’re going to meet that “quota” unless you put measures in place. 

Which leads us to a crucial element of private practice success that most in SA simply do not do well or understand fully – how to market yourself as a doctor.

Getting Enough New Patients For Your Practice

At almost R1m costs before you even see a cent for yourself, a private GP will need to see at least 24-plus patients per day at around R500 each for 4 months before they see any money for themselves. The problem is, though, when setting up a new practice, it takes time to build up enough presence to get even 24 patients in per day – remember you’re new, so people don;t know you; meaning you start with zero per day.

And with NHI throwing even more uncertainty on the matter, it’s time for SA doctors to start getting smart about their marketing.

Though there’s no ready statistics on how GPs in SA market themselves, including even how many doctors have their own website, studies show that 63% of patients prefer doctors with an online presence (website, social media, online profile).

That’s because over 80% of patients use their phones and devices to look up and communicate with doctors, first. Today, 9 out of 10 patients want to be actively involved in their healthcare, which means that their journey of trust starts long before they even walk into the waiting room.

In medicine, trust is vital. And we’ve long known that patient satisfaction is paramount to creating that trust. The new information here is that, in the age of social media, your patient’s satisfaction starts long before they even meet you – it starts when they first look for you online.

In fact, because patients are engaging online, doctors have an online presence whether they know it or not. That’s why learning healthcare marketing has never been more important for GPs in SA.

Ethical Healthcare Marketing for Doctors in South Africa

We know that effective marketing increases revenue and value of service of any business. But, of course, marketing yourself in healthcare is a little different.

In medicine, we need to keep our marketing ethical. Which loosely translates to not doing anything that counts as coercion and not touting yourself as “better” in any way. Much like you do in your practice, you need to simply work with facts and showcase options, without forcing anything on people.

See the HPCSA’s guidelines on marketing right here.

This means a doctor can have:

* A mobile-friendly website, with contact details and information about themselves, their qualifications, specialisms etc.

* Practice Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to help patients find them easily online. 

* Have a social media presence where you can engage with the public without givnig medical advice.

* Have an online listing where you share information about yourself and how people can contact you etc.

* Have patient-engagement solutions such as automated appointment scheduling, online doctors consultations etc.

* Assess patient satisfaction with voluntary surveys etc.

Doctors can even run paid advertising or use influencer marketing, as long as you’re simply providing factual information, not coercing potential patients, and influencers declare openly that they benefit financially from promoting you.

The only foreseeable problem with high-performance healthcare marketing for SA doctors – which is maybe why so few actually do it – is that it adds even more costs to an already costly enterprise.

Cost-Effective Marketing for Doctors

If you already have to raise between R1m and R2m just to operate, marketing can seem like a luxury SA doctors just can’t afford. But it’s an absolute necessity, because it can take a doctor month if not years to reach that kind of patient volume.

Which is why we at Udok have launched a new online directory of doctors in South Africa

And, unlike existing directories, ours is 100% free:

* Fulll listings, with all your details, 100% free.

* Add an image of yourself to build patient trust.

* Showcase your skillset to potential new clientele.

* Display your qualifications, specialisms and services.

* Display ALL your contact details – address, phone, email, website.

* Let patients book appointments directly from your profile.

* Add further information about yourself with a simple 10-minute questionnaire, to show potential patients your depth of knowledge and build trust.

* Patients can contact you directly from your profile.

* Set up a digital/virtual practice for free.

* No term or obligations, use your own rates etc. – we’re independent.

And it is all 100% free to registered medical practitioners in South Africa.

Unlike other existing directories we don’t ask any money from you. We also don’t interfere with your rates etc. – charge what you want it’s none of our business, we’re a 100% independent platform. We will even help you set up a virtual practice – see patients online to build up extra revenue, or just service clients better. Also for free.

So, if you don’t have a website and can’t afford to employ expensive marketing services, or even if you have some marketing and just want to get additional exposure, please feel free to submit your details to us to include you in our online directory.

It’s a simple 10-minute process, and it’s all automated with easy-to-use online tools, so you can get it done fats in your spare time.

To get listed for free right now contact us here.

And learn how to set up a virtual practice with Udok.

The doctor will see you now

Save up to 40% on doctors' fees

Plus: No queues, no waiting, no travelling necessary. You can speak to one of the best doctors in South Africa right now, on your device – within 1 minute.

They can give you a prescription, sick note, advice & can even write referrals for lab tests – anything you need from the comfort of your home.

See a doctor now