Is Radiology Too Good for In-Your-Face Marketing?

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Many radiologists have resisted external advertising (print ads, radio, etc.) for years for a number of reasons. Some are doing well enough and don’t feel the need. Some rely so heavily on referrals that external advertising is unnecessary. There is another group, though, that resists external advertising simply because they believe it is beneath them; that only desperate or highly unprofessional radiologists would consider running ads.

AreYouDense is a non-profit organization “dedicated to informing the public about dense breast tissue and its significance for the early detection of breast cancer.” In a move not likely dissuade the last group of aforementioned radiologists, the advocacy group recently placed a digital billboard ad by the Southbound lane of the New Jersey Turnpike with a headline reading, “WARNING! Your mammogram may not be able to detect cancer.”

D.E.N.S.E. NJ billboard next to the New Jersey Turnpike.

A strong case could be made that AreYouDense.org is alerting women to the special nature of dense breast tissue, an important but seldom discussed health matter. Others can claim, and rightly so, that this type of in-your-face advertising is inflammatory and can cause not only undue stress in many women, but may also contribute to the rate of unnecessary scanning that has been the subject of controversy for many years.

For their part, the American College of Radiology has created a new brochure that tackles the subject of dense breasts with a less emotional, more factual approach. The ACR’s approach has no mention of dense breast screening as a secret, best-kept or otherwise, and encourages women to discuss breast cancer screening options with their doctors.

According to a 2011 study conducted jointly by the Cancer Therapy and Research Center at the University of Texas and the American Association for Cancer Research, “…only half of eligible women in the United States are getting their annual mammograms, even if they have insurance to pay for the procedure…”

Based on that data, is it not time for more drastic measures to be taken, even if the collateral damage, in this case, some unnecessary screenings, is a result? Radiology cannot have it both ways. It seems to me that since there is universal agreement on the efficacy of breast cancer screenings, even if there is some disagreement on the interval and starting age, we must try something radically different to drastically lower that fifty percent. If doing so rankles a few professionals due to a stark campaign, so be it.

Besides, from a business standpoint, radiologists have little to lose. They are, at the end of the day, in business, and the Dense campaign is likely to result in more customers for radiologists in the area, customers who may return for other studies due to a pleasant initial breast cancer screening experience, there should be rejoicing, not condemnation.

The Dense campaign may not be the most professional approach, and until we see the data, it may not even be effective. But until someone figures out how the crack the fifty percent code with a better message, we should support this attempt to get women to their doctors to address the special circumstances of dense breasts.


With over 25 years of marketing experience — nine years as a former Vice President of Marketing for a leading healthcare marketing company — Steve Smith has consistently developed effective strategies to help fuel the growth of countless healthcare enterprises. Since 2007, he has specialized as a marketing and business development consultant to medical imaging facilities nationwide. Mr. Smith has been a featured speaker at imaging conferences and is a former member of the marketing subcommittee of the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA). He has contributed marketing articles to numerous healthcare publications, including Physician’s Money Digest, Radiology Business Journal and more. Mr. Smith is the creator of “Ten Seconds to Great Customer Service™,” a medical imaging training program that provides easy-to-use tactical customer service support to staff.