Choosing your primary audience when designing a public relations campaign is usually a straight-forward decision. However, when developing the public relations campaign for a hospital or similar patient-focused healthcare provider, you face a tricky decision when determining who you want to inform and influence.Should you focus on the particular portion of the population your healthcare organization serves as patients? Or should you focus on the galaxy of physicians who send people to your institution for medical tests and who rely on your facilities to treat their patients?Based on my experience in developing and directing healthcare public relations programs for hospitals and other large medical practices and institutions, I will plant my feet firmly on both sides of the argument.Your course of action depends upon the ultimate goal of your public relations campaign and how you answer these two questions:* Do you want to increase and strengthen your institution’s bottom line?* Do you want to increase and strengthen your institution’s stature and reputation in your community as a primary healthcare and social resource?You may want to answer “yes” to both questions. But unless you have unlimited funds, you must determine how much to spend on reinforcing your institution’s bottom line and how much should go toward strengthening its reputation as an outstanding healthcare resource in the eyes of the general public.Why should you aim a hospital’s public relations initiatives only at doctors?Hospitals and other healthcare institutions that want to appeal to and serve more patients must maintain a tight focus on attracting and serving doctors. Doctors are the driving force behind patients’ use of specific hospitals.When hospitals ask their patients, “Why did you choose this hospital?” Most will answer, “Because this is where my doctor sent me.”Patents trust their doctors so they follow their advice.Other than in an emergency or when an institution is renowned for its expertise in a particular illness or specialty, patients don’t show up or make an appointment at a hospital for a test or treatment unless their primary physician or specialist directed them to do so.Hospitals should conduct very active and focused physician relations programs that keep doctors well informed regarding the hospital’s services, facilities and treatment capabilities.Increasing the number of doctors associated with your hospital will result in more patients than will publicizing the institution’s facilities, services or capabilities to a broad, general audience.Why should you aim a hospital’s public relations initiatives at the general public?Public relations campaigns directed at the general public strengthen a hospital’s overall reputation as a high quality institution; an institution that benefits patients with leading edge services, compassionate care and advanced medical technology.Such campaigns establish and reinforce the hospital’s reputation as a vital community resource.They comfort and pre-sell prospective patients when their doctor tells them to go to a particular hospital for tests or treatment. They eliminate the need for a doctor to explain why she/he uses a certain hospital when providing treatment.And they reinforce your physician-relations campaign by reassuring doctors that they made the right decision when choosing your hospital to treat their patients and connect their name and professional reputation.