Getting the Word Out
With health care becoming increasingly consumer driven, how do you market your practice to both patients and referring clinicians?
The tiny town of Lovettsville, Va., boasts a population of 1,801 — only one of whom is a general practitioner. Because of the town’s size, campaigns for preventative health practices such as mammography were scarce. Until, that is, one of the residents was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Because of her experiences, the resident took it upon herself to educate the entire town. Now, mammography education has become a town-wide event in Lovettsville — local businesses donate items like food and flowers, teachers plan educational games and help out with child care, and the local radiology practice, Radiology Imaging Associates (RIA), from Lansdowne, Va., is there to help educate everyone about mammography.
Informed patients like those in Lovettsville present great opportunities and challenges for radiologists. Because they are more engaged, they make their own decisions about where they receive imaging. And while radiologists should give them due marketing attention, they must also keep marketing to their physicians and hospitals. With so many places to direct your marketing efforts, how can you reach all customers — patients and clinicians — without breaking your budget?
Teach a Man to Fish
One way might be to stop thinking about marketing as simply advertising. Marketing to prospective clients isn’t just about letting them know you have the lowest prices and the most conveniently located center. Sometimes it means helping patients understand the procedures referring physicians may be recommending. “A lot of the times, patients turn imaging down because they don’t understand the value,” says Cheryl Goldsby, marketing director of RIA. “It’s not that the people I meet believe health care at our practice isn’t worth paying for or are concerned about the price. It’s that they don’t understand why it’s important.”
For Goldsby, marketing is not as much about selling to clients as it is about educating them. To educate their patients, RIA tries to be a frequent face at community events — from health fairs in malls to runs for charity. And the practice always has something new to share. “Imaging technology is changing constantly, so we make sure to help our patients understand it,” says Heather Finizio, also a marketing director at RIA. “By getting out there and educating patients about imaging technology, we help patients recognize our face. And because they recognize us, they trust us to give them the best care possible.”
Katie Robbins, marketing director at Charlotte Radiology in North Carolina, agrees that helping patients understand procedures is an important way to get your practice recognized. During October, nearly everyone is hosting events related to breast health, says Robbins, and everyone wants radiologists to be there. While that’s not always an option, Robbins says, it’s definitely worth it to create things for the events to give out. “You can send small tchotchkes with your name on it,” she says. “Our patients love them, and they not only help get the word out about the importance of mammography, but they get our name out there too. They’ve been really effective.”
Some caveats do exist when educating the public, especially when you take advantage of popular causes such as breast cancer awareness. “People are getting pink fatigue; some individuals abuse the cause and use it to sell things,” warns Robbins. “You walk a fine line of making sure your outreach efforts aren’t too much about your practice. When you’re out at these events and giving out materials, emphasize the educational aspect of what you’re doing.”
And how does reaching out to inform patients affect relations with your referring clinicians or hospital administration? Both Finizio and Robbins say referring clinicians appreciate it. Some even use the infographics and other educational materials provided by the radiology practices with patients, says Robbins. Sharing these resources not only gets your name in other places, but you also help cultivate a relationship with your referring physicians by providing useful tools.
Charlotte Radiology's famous pink ladies pose for a photo.
These activities can help educate referring physicians at the same time. Scott A. Mirowitz, MD, FACR, and his team at the radiology department at Loyola University in Chicago participate in an event called See, Test, Treat. They partner with both OB/GYN physicians and pathologists to provide a day of free cervical and breast cancer screening. Each group performs a different task, whether it’s seeing patients for a Pap smear, coordinating lab tests, or (in the radiologists’ case) coordinating screening.
By partnering with other physicians and creating a multidisciplinary philanthropic team, you are not only putting a face to radiology for patients but also for referring physicians. “It’s beneficial in making patients and physicians aware of the services not only presented by our department, but by radiologists everywhere,” says Mirowitz. “Radiologist expertise, technology, and the mindset towards service and patient care — we’re putting all of that out there.”
Finizio agrees that broadcasting radiology as a specialty is important. She adds that the process can be even simpler than going out into the community.
“Reaching out and educating referring physicians can be as simple as picking up the phone and giving advice about a case or even having a lunch where a radiologist can answer questions clinicians may have,” she says.
Talk to Me
Advertising to both health care professionals and patients is all about thinking outside of the box, says Robbins. “You can’t just show an image of a doctor and patients with some text anymore,” she advises. “People have seen that a million times over. They’re going to overlook it.” Every year, her practice finds eight volunteers and dresses them up — seven pink suits and one white. They walk around town carrying a sign explaining that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. The group also provides places to go for more information. “So many people come up to us because they can relate to that statistic. They’re that one woman,” Robbins says. “They thank us for educating the public, and nearly all of them take pictures with us. Then those pictures go up on social media and get shared over and over again. And our brand and name is right there with it.”
Robbins adds that out-of-the-box ideas work for referring physicians as well. “Referring physicians and hospital administrators are consumers too,” she says. “What catches your patient’s eye may very well resonate with other doctors too. When we send out ads, we assume our referring physicians are seeing those ads. And they are. We get responses from them.”
Work for the Greater Good
Finally, all three practices noted that one of the easiest ways to market to both patients and clinicians was to apply the principles of Imaging 3.0™. By taking time to speak to your referring clinicians and making your practice friendly to patients, you are cultivating relationships that generate business, says Keller. “At the end of the day, our goal is to help patients,” says Robbins. “And if you make sure your patients are well cared for, they will make sure they send other patients to be well cared for too.”
- Access a variety of patient-centric resources from RSNA's Radiology Cares initiative.
- Learn more about one practice's efforts to connect with its colleagues.
- Provide your referring physicians with breast cancer resources to share with patients. The ACR offers brochures aimed at patients, referring providers, and anyone with questions about dense breasts.