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Dr Karel Jan Alsem: ‘It’s high time there was more love and nerve in health care’

19 June 2012

Although the government is stimulating market forces in healthcare and a new care landscape is emerging, care institutions still pay hardly any attention to marketing. It’s high time that that changed, is the opinion of Dr Karel Jan Alsem, brand specialist at the University of Groningen. ‘Care institutions should spread a bit more nerve and love around. That would make healthcare better and more efficient and the satisfaction of patients and staff would grow.’

Karel Jan Alsem
Karel Jan Alsem

‘Whether or not it’s a good idea to stimulate market mechanisms in healthcare is not something I’m going to comment on. It’s a fact that we have to cope with – everywhere in healthcare, from home care to mental healthcare to hospital care. Independent treatment centres are springing up like mushrooms and competition is increasing. Clients have more and more information at their disposal about care provided. They not only keep an eye on the ranking lists, but also the evaluations of care providers on popular Dutch websites such as and It’s remarkable that care intuitions still hardly bother with marketing. They are overlooking something very important.’

A hand on the shoulder…

Together with market researcher and University of Groningen alumnus Robbert Klein Koerkamp, Alsem published a book called Zorg met liefde en lef [Care with love and nerve] on Tuesday 19 June, including a step-by-step plan for marketing care. ‘Care institutions should spread a bit more nerve and love around, that is the key message in our book. Love in this context means really being customer-orientated. Many hospitals admit that they are not very good at that yet. It goes without saying that in most cases they provide outstandingly good care. But that says nothing about the interaction. Patients vastly prefer a doctor who puts a hand on their shoulder and pays proper attention to them to one who ‘only’ makes them better. By identifying with the patient you give them an ‘A+ experience’ and also lay the groundwork for word-of-mouth advertising. That aspect is increasingly important in this social media age.’

…can also save time

‘Of course identifying with patients, carers and volunteers is easier said than done. Healthcare personnel often work under enormous time pressure and have the feeling that they can never get around to some tasks. But good interaction doesn’t necessarily have to take more time; it’s also to do with attitude. And good interaction can even result in time savings. Research has shown that patients who feel that they are taken seriously are more reliable when it comes to taking their medication, and following doctors’ instructions. So marketing could lead indirectly to a reduction in healthcare costs.’

Create a strong care brand

‘What’s perhaps even more important is that care institutions show more nerve, we state in our book. What we mean is that they should work out what their USPs are – their unique selling points, the things that differentiate them from their competitors. The atmosphere in care is still much too negative. Many institutions are wary of making mistakes and seem to focus exclusively on preventing them. As a result they forget how important it is to underline their good qualities, despite the fact that they could derive enormous benefit from them. We say: dare to profile yourself as a care brand, because there’re such a lot of good things happening in healthcare. Don’t keep it to yourselves, show the outside world who you are with passion!’

Everyone benefits

‘A care institution that lists its USPs and specializes will provide better care, that’s the first thing to remember. After all, care providers who conduct a treatment or intervention regularly get more adept, better and more efficient at it. Listing your USPs can thus lead to savings and increase the satisfaction of patients. But the staff will benefit too. They will not only be able to focus more clearly on their work, the atmosphere at work will be more positive too. Instead of the prevention of mistakes, specialization, innovation and quality improvement will take centre stage. Every member of staff will then be a “part-time marketer”. If a care provider becomes a stronger brand, the relationships with referrers and insurance companies will also improve and it will be easier to attract new staff.’

Curriculum Vitae

Karel Jan Alsem (Leeuwarden, 1957) studied Business Economics at the University of Groningen. Between 1981 and 1985 he was a researcher for the SEO (Economic Research Foundation) of the University of Amsterdam. From 1985 to 1991 he conducted research at the University of Groningen and was awarded a PhD for a thesis on ‘Concurrentieanalyse in de marketing: theorie, technieken en toepassingen’ [Competition analysis in marketing: theory, techniques and applications]. In 1991 Alsem became a university lecturer at the Faculty of Economics and Business of the University of Groningen. In September 2012 he also became a lector in Marketing at the Hanze University Groningen. He specializes in strategic brand management, marketing communication and marketing planning. Alsem is also an independent brand advisor, specializing in care marketing. Interested parties can order his book on care marketing via

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.10 p.m.
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