Radiology Must Market its Value Before it is too Late
On May 27, the Los Angeles Times ran a front page story about variable pricing available to patients in hospitals. The article was titled, “Many hospitals, doctors offer cash discount for medical bills,” but there was a problem: Out of the many hospital departments available for pricing review, the examples of pricing options for patients cited by the Times (cash vs. insured or Medicare) were almost all in the radiology department. If medical imaging has been singled out for scrutiny, it is the result of several factors. The one over which we have the most control, however, and also the one over which we can see the greatest immediate benefit, is marketing. The case in point is a personal one. In June, 2010, my wife was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor which was revealed after an MRI at a local hospital emergency room. In my quest for a reliable second opinion, I found a radiologist whose subsequent report and plain language drove the core treatment plan for my wife over the subsequent 24 months. Thanks to the expertise of this radiologist and her ability to communicate with me in a manner that maximized my understanding of the situation, my wife lived 10 months beyond the median life span for her diagnosis. That was 10 months during which she was able to travel, laugh and love. You know the value of your services. Your referrers probably know the value of your services. I most certainly know the value of your services. But do your patients know the critical role you play in their care? Probably not, and here is where you can help your own cause. Many radiologists and others in health care are hesitant to offer even the slightest hint of self-promotion on their websites or through other marketing channels. This critical marketing mistake has led patients to undervalue medical imaging services to the point where choosing a radiologist is often based on the same criteria with which one would choose a restaurant. In many cases today, geography, that is, the proximity of your office to the patient’s home or office plays a greater role in the decision-making process than whether you or your partners have particular expertise in reviewing a scan of the type the patient has completed. Today’s patient is likely to choose a medical imaging office based more on available parking or office hours than the board certifications or research experience of the people who will be interpreting the scan. There is enough blame to go around. We can cite weak lobbying efforts and a lack of commitment to a patient education process by the various medical imaging organizations, or we can blame politicians and bureaucrats for chasing what they see as the “low hanging fruit.” Or, we can accept that times have changed and just as medical imaging services have been allowed to be devalued, it is easier today, thanks to the Internet, to correct the situation. This no time for the high road. Your website should have a prominent section on your home page or through an easily accessible interior page that explains to prospective patients the role of a radiologist and how important it is to choose one as though one’s life depended on it. As I know, often, it does. It’s either that or continued to be pummeled by those who don’t know a medical imaging office from a pizzeria.
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.