Bright Ideas

Practices are getting creative as they market their services in a changing health-care environment.bright ideas

Things are changing in the world of health care. And as the health system shifts, so does the business climate.

When it comes to marketing, a growing number of practices are responding to the changes by trying new things and focusing on the needs of their patients more than ever before. The Bulletin spoke with three innovative practices (each of whom went home with one of RBMA's Quest Awards this year) that are changing their paradigms to help their practices thrive.

Charlotte Radiology

Charlotte, N.C.

The Challenge

Charlotte Radiology knew it needed to change something about its marketing of uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) procedures. There was no shortage of women affected by the condition, and Charlotte Radiology offered a minimally invasive procedure that could greatly benefit patients. For years, the practice had marketed the procedure to referring physicians, but its referring volume remained flat.

The Solution

Charlotte RadiologyMary Margaret Williford, vascular and interventional marketing manager, convened a focus group composed of African-American women, the demographic most likely to suffer from uterine fibroids, and set out to understand how women with fibroids go about seeking treatment and what they value in a health-care provider. "What we found was that they don't really have a preference about their physician's specialty; they just want their fibroids taken care of," says Williford. The focus group uncovered significant patient confusion about treatment options, particularly interventional radiology procedures, like UFE. "There's some confusion when it comes to what an interventional radiologist does," says Eric A. Wang, MD, touching on the common misperception that an interventional radiologist can diagnose but not treat fibroids.

Charlotte Radiology decided to brand the procedure itself and leave the name of the practice out, since that seemed to be where some of the misunderstandings lay. It set up a separate phone line for UFE patients and launched a website dedicated to educating patients about fibroids and outlining treatment options.

It also began marketing directly to its targeted demographic. "In my opinion, mass marketing to all women is a waste of money when we can hone in on a specific group that is most affected by this condition," says Williford. Charlotte Radiology relied on focus group data to formulate everything from the tone of the communications to the design of the website and marketing materials.

The Results

Since the inception of the UFE marketing campaign, more than 600 patients have reached out to Charlotte Radiology about UFE procedures. In the first half of 2013, more than 100 potential UFE candidates contacted the practice.

The Takeaway

Your marketing approach may need to address patient confusion about the role of radiology outside of diagnostic imaging. It may also benefit your practice to target certain segments of the population with your marketing.

Diagnostic Imaging Northwest

Bonney Lake and Puyallup, Wash.

The Challenge

Diagnostic Imaging Northwest wanted to help its patients stay current with their screening mammograms and keep up to date with screening recommendations. Many patients also associated the screening with discomfort, causing them to put off their mammograms.

The Solution

To increase screening rates in the community and boost its brand recognition, Diagnostic Imaging Northwest looked at how it could surround a sometimes unpleasant procedure with positive experiences, while continuing to educate women on the importance of early detection.

Marketing and communications manager Rachael Costner began planning free events to encourage screening and to help women build connections within the health-care community. One of her first projects was the Mammography Promise Tea Party, an event to celebrate women's health. Her medical imaging northwestgoal was modest, 40 attendees. And she reached it, paving the way for bigger events in the future, like teaming up with an area hospital system, MultiCare, to hose a community breakfast for more than 800 5k participants, complete with radiologists in pink aprons serving pink pancakes.

One of the most successful events took place after months of buildup. Each patient who came in for a mammogram received a rose quartz stone with an invitation to a jewelry-making party. Costner emphasized to patients that rose quartz is traditionally known as the gemstone of love and is said to have calming powers. Patients brought their quartz to the party, where they had a chance to incorporate the stone into a piece of jewelry and connect with other patients. "People can share their stories and have fun," says Costner. "If they want to talk about what's going on with their health, they can. If they don't want to, they don't have to."

Costner opens events to everyone interested, whether they are patients or not. In addition to the initial invitation, she gets the word out by leaving fliers in referring physicians' offices, advertising on the practice website, including events on community calendars, and posting on social media.

The Results

Attendance at events has steadily increased, building goodwill while also boosting the practice's visibility in the community.

The Takeaway

When increasing your practice's community involvement, start small and let initiatives build momentum.

Mountain Medical

Salt Lake City

The Challenge

As the recession set in, a growing number of patients were forgoing imaging studies for financial reasons. "Our health-care community noted a decline in patient outcomes as patients were not following through with recommended imaging and treatment," says Mary Christensen, director of marketing. "Patients were feeling frustrated because there wasn't a clear way to find out how much their imaging study was going to cost." Both Mountain Medical radiologists and their referring physicians were looking for ways to help patients save money and make informed decisions about their health care.

The Solution

In order to respond to their customers' needs, Mountain Medical's marketing team tried to put themselves in the shoes of the customers. "We tried calling facilities (even our own facility!) to get estimates," says Christensen, "and we couldn't get clear answers."

moutain medicalMountain Medical decided to remedy the situation by making their fees transparent. Staff set up a spreadsheet to calculate patients' out-of-pocket costs and then gave out estimates for imaging up front. Paired with Mountain Medical physicians' well establish reputation for quality, this feature became a key marketing point for the practice.

The marketing team went to referring physicians, explained the idea, and asked for their support in educating patients. This helped strengthen relationships between radiologists and referring physicians as they worked together to encourage patients to follow through on their imaging.

The Results

Before the campaign, less than 1 percent of patients reported choosing Mountain Medical because of price. After the first campaign, the figure went up to 17 percent. Now it's hovering at about 23 percent.

The Takeaway

Cost savings are a powerful motivation for patients, particularly in the current economic climate.

By Lyndsee Cordes

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