It's fairly common for people to say to me something like this: "but why do hospitals need marketing? Don't people just go to the nearest hospital when they are sick?"
Well, it's so much more complicated than that. Yes, a person having a heart attack will probably go to the nearest hospital, in an ambulance. But what about someone who wakes up with a sore throat? Will they go to an urgent care center? Will they go see their doctor? Will they go to the drugstore and buy cough syrup? These are all choices, and each has a dollar value associated with them. In this scenario, these are real competitors, as the money doesn't go to the same source.
Health care consumers are unusual, in that nearly everyone is one, but very few of them know how to work in such a complicated system. Some health care marketing is just helping people know where to start and what to do next. Sometimes it's sharing what new research might mean for patients or caregivers. Other times, it is actually competition between health systems for patients for a specific service -- a la "Our cardiac care is the best!" or "Our orthopedic doctors will get you back on your feet!"
There are lots of ways to communicate -- it can be marketing, or communications, or publicity. (PS I do it all) But health care is full of choices, and there is a lot of money to be channeled...so that's why there's a field of professionals that do it!