The Radiology Practice in the Mature Market: Tactics for Success

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Curtis Kauffman PickelleAs radiology’s marketplace has achieved maturation, practices—more than ever—can (and should) take their cues from other industries, according to Curtis Kauffman-Pickelle, CEO of imagingBiz and a longtime consultant to radiology practices. “Radiology, as an institution, needs to look to successful models in businesses outside of medicine—the models that have been proven successful at making transitions in difficult times. We are clearly in one of those times when change is absolutely a constant,” he says. “Radiology is experiencing a maturation that parallels the maturation in product and market life cycles.” One consequence of that maturation is consumerism, with the result that imaging businesses are increasingly competing not just with one another, or even with other organizations in the health-care sphere, but with customers’ experiences of any business. “What I preach, to the practices I work with, is that all of your customers—from the patient and the patient’s family to the referring physician and the hospital partner—will measure you by the experiences they have with you, and those experiences, increasingly, are related to the best experiences they’ve had anywhere,” Kauffman-Pickelle says. Differentiation of Experience For instance, he adds, as consumerism in health care becomes more prevalent, radiology practices can expect their customers’ experiences with them to be compared with their experiences with service leaders such as Starbucks Corp, the Walt Disney Co, or Neiman Marcus. “Consumer-driven health care is creating an environment in which patients, payors, and caregivers will combine to make decisions together about where they get care,” he says. “It will be increasingly important to differentiate your practice based on customer experience.” Radiology faces cultural obstacles to achieving that goal—obstacles that are likely to result in a divided market, Kauffman-Pickelle says. “Groups need to realize that they will fall into one of three market positions: the high-value, low-cost provider; the quality provider; and the provider that focuses on the total experience of all of its customer segments,” he notes. “There will be a cultural tension in radiology groups that will have to be overcome, if those groups are going to assume the customer-experience model and market position.” Radiologists, Kauffman-Pickelle continues, have become accustomed to productivity-based compensation, and they cling to its tenets, even as payment and delivery reforms begin to take root. “Radiologists have not historically been compensated based on time spent with patients or on providing a lot of consultative time,” he says. “There inevitably will be tension as groups work out the tactics necessary to reposition themselves.” Initiating Change One place to start is the development of a compensation methodology that doesn’t give these and other customer-experience–building activities short shrift, Kauffman-Pickelle says. “One of the first things I have seen successful practices do is value the partners’ time that is dedicated to activities such as working with the hospital in positions of responsibility and authority, presenting papers for CME to referring physician groups, and being involved in grand rounds,” he says. “Practices should be providing incentives for the various ways that radiologists can continue to be the consultative physicians and educators they can naturally be. Then, when those opportunities present themselves, they can embrace them.” Practices should also encourage their partners to play roles in business development, Kauffman-Pickelle notes. “Radiologists should be allocating the time to go out and do one-on-one presentations to referring physicians,” he says. He points out that this process doesn’t have to be as distracting or time-consuming as it might sound, at first blush: One practice implemented a program (with great success) in which radiologists were assigned to a rotation by subspecialty. Then, they would each spend one day, every six weeks, joining the practice’s marketing staff as it visited referrers. Kauffman-Pickelle cautions practices against entertaining the idea that such activities are distractions (because they take radiologists away from the stacks). Radiologists who are partners in their practices also need to learn to persuade one another as much as they need to learn to persuade their customers. “The art of persuasion will be a necessary factor, within groups, in getting the partners aligned around accepting the customer-experience value proposition,” he says. “That will be the first step in building a strategy and developing tactics that will allow practice participants to value customer experience as much as they value quality and productivity.” Cat Vasko is editor of Medical Imaging Review and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.