Ready for Patients Who Shop Around?

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Once upon a time, your patient went to his primary care physician and if medical imaging services were ordered, he went wherever the doctor’s office told him to go. Sometimes that meant driving extra miles or taking an appointment at inconvenient hours, all because that is what the doctor told him to do and the doctor knew best.

That was then, this is now: Welcome to websites and other technology that are helping your patient drive his own care – and perhaps even drive him away from you.

The technology, however, is just a tool. The root cause of the increase in medical imaging consumerism is an increase in the number of people who are paying more out of pocket for care. Consider:

  • Average employee contributions to company-provided health insurance has increased more than 120 percent since 2000. (Kaiser.org, 2009)
  • Of the approximately 12 million Americans still unemployed, only about 9 percent are receiving health care coverage under COBRA. The rest are doing without insurance. (Families USA, 2009)
  • The average out-of-pocket costs for deductibles, co-payments for medications, and co-insurance for physician and hospital visits has risen 115 percent since 2000. (Kaiser.org, 2009)

In other words, there are record numbers of people paying more out of their own pockets for health care. As a result, they are shopping for the best deal and technology is making that shopping easier.

Consider saveonmedical.com, where patients can choose from a list of imaging facilities independent of any recommendations their doctors may have made. As a test, I entered my zip code and the procedure I required (I used “MRI of brain”). In an instant, I was given a list of 100 facilities that offered brain MRIs and an average price quote of $1,313. The list of recommendations included hospitals, IDTFs, individual physicians and at least two cardiology offices.

Though recommendations are listed according to the shortest distance form the zip code, saveonmedical.com can filter results based on price, accreditation, amenities, hours and even languages.

Saveonmedical.com is but one example of how technology and, increasingly, social media will drive more patients to or from your door: A Google search of “mri brain” and my town revealed a paid result offering the scan for $289.

This is no longer a trend – it is a mainstream way of procuring medical imaging and the providers that connect first with consumers via even the most common and easy resources, such as Twitter and Facebook, will have a jump in the battle for brand recognition.

Sadly, most readers are unaware of the impact of this type of communications technology on their imaging business. For many, there is a disconnect with the technology that fails to acknowledge that they are not their target audience: “I don’t use the internet to shop for medical imaging so I don’t believe others are.”

Others want to embrace social media and optimize their websites, but have no person or process in place to initiate and manage this important part of their future.

The irony in both of these examples is that they are often still utilizing so-called “old school” marketing efforts such as brochures to referrers, premiums and live representatives. These are all important marketing efforts, to be sure, but they do not reach the consumer. And when the consumer speaks, there may be no one at your imaging business listening.