Can You Compete With South Korea?

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Curtis Kauffman-PickelleThere is no question that the competitive environment for medical-imaging services has become much more intense in recent years. As prices erode and certain commoditization sets in, branding, messaging, and the ability to differentiate a value proposition are becoming critically important to the success of hospitals, imaging centers, and practices. Basic principles of competition indicate that if you don’t take the time to brand yourself, your competition will do it for you, and you will not like their idea of your value.

If it is your view that this is among those squishy and soft issues in today’s delivery of high-quality imaging services that you would just rather not deal with, you are not going to be happy that the stakes have been raised yet again. If you are not already ahead of the curve in terms of developing a top-level marketing footprint, you will probably be surprised to learn that in the future, you just might be asked to compete with an imaging practice in Singapore or South Korea.

Take a look at this advertisement [PDF] that I came across in one of the local business publications where I live (in Orange County, California). It is sponsored by an organization known as HealthGlobe (Boston, Massachusetts), and is one of the more recent examples of what is becoming known as medical tourism. Of particular note is the rather impressive group of cosponsoring organizations, as well as the list of services that are included in these two particular medical treatments programs in South Korea.

The basic idea, as it has evolved over the past few years, is that since patients are being asked to pay for an increasingly large percentage of their so-called care experience, they will be most attracted to a system where these costs are a fraction of what they would be in the United States. Couple this with the fact that an exotic program can be developed that might include touring the country prior to treatment, and one can see the attraction, given the assumption that the quality of care is comparable (and from a customer-service standpoint, it is likely to be not only comparable, but superior).

South Korea and other countries are actively competing for patients, and it is only a matter of time before this concept will be considered a reasonable alternative and rather mainstream. Yes, it is currently somewhat exotic (and designed for a small segment of the patient population), but it could be the tip of the iceberg in terms of changing landscape of health-care delivery. For many years, our premier institutions have attracted the wealthy from many countries, but it is reasonable to assume that even these providers increasingly will be competing against South Korea and other countries as they invest in state-of-the-art facilities, top-quality physicians, and platinum levels of customer service.

What I would really like to underscore, through this example, is that our health-care world is changing fast, and survival is increasingly dependent on the ebb and flow of the marketplace. Those organizations that ignore the basic realities of competition (that it makes you better, that it is always better for the customer, that it keeps your organization sharp, and that it eliminates marginal players) do so at their peril. Even if it is most likely that you will never be affected by the huge push by South Korea, you will definitely be competing for lucrative referrals in ways that you probably never imagined.

What, then, should you do? Take a hard and objective look at your business-development strategy. Is it driven by someone professionally trained in the principles of business and marketing? Does he or she feel as important to the organization as your technical staff? Articulate your brand values and key differentiating factors. What sets you apart, and why should someone refer patients to you, rather than to your competitor?

Identify the internal threats to providing world-class customer service and fix them immediately. Survey your referral sources and see what it is that they expect from you; then, deliver it in ways that will turn them into raving fans. You want them to be your advocates with their patients, so that those patients would never even contemplate going somewhere else—especially all the way to South Korea.

Curtis Kauffman-Pickelle is publisher of ImagingBiz.com and Radiology Business Journal, and is a 30-year veteran of the medical-imaging industry. He welcomes your comments at ckp@imagingbiz.com