Marketing Radiology Services: Do It, Says MGH

When the potential of marketing to positively impact an imaging practice is fully understood and brought to bear, it can become a strategic differentiator between radiology practices.

David A. Rosman, MD, MBA, et al
Massachusetts General Hospital Radiology
January 29, 2020

An article detailing Massachusetts General Radiology Department’s experience in marketing radiology services provides valuable insight into how an entrepreneurial, hospital-based private practice evolved its marketing strategy with a changing market. It is likely to make a marketer out of you, if you aren’t already.

Rosman et al laid out their journey in three stages in the Journal of the American College of Radiology January supplement:

  • Phase I: Radiology Marketing Program Development—MGH opened its first outpatient imaging center in 1999, triggering the need for marketing;
  • Phase II: Strategic Relations—consolidation in the health care marketplace, declining reimbursement beginning with the DRA, the proliferation of outpatient imaging competition, and network steerage required a strategic response during the first decade of the 21st century;
  • Phase III: Business- and Patient-Centered Operations—a patient experience team was established within the marketing division in 2017, and MGH is moving to establish closer ties with its patient stakeholders.

Phase I: Program Development

Initially, MGH recruited two people to work on imaging center referrals by developing a dialog with referring physicians, similar to the pharmaceutical model and now widely deployed by radiology practices with imaging center assets. Steps were also taken to build relationships with the physician’s office staff. To that end, liaisons were equipped with “small gestures of courtesy” that included umbrellas, calendars, pens, and hand cleanser bearing the department logo.

For new physicians joining the hospital, MGH radiology developed a “welcome wagon” approach to orient new physicians to the basics of how to schedule exams, hours of operation, and services offered, with the liaison acting as ombudsman and problem solver.

In addition to sustained efforts to build a strong service relationship and open communications, the marketing efforts included a monthly periodical, Radiology Rounds, that describes how to use new technologies and specialized services. This established communication channel was used to alleviate concerns if an article appeared in the popular press on the dangers of radiation.

Phase II: Strategic Relations

The authors described the disruptive effects of health system consolidation and the changes in payment models that enabled payors to steer patient traffic to network-affiliated imaging centers during the first decade of the 21st century. An increasingly competitive outpatient imaging market amplified MGH’s leakage problem, as did the willingness of competitors to secure pre-authorizations for referrals against contract terms. In the meantime, prime-time availability on scanners became scarce as utilization continued to rise.

MGH Radiology recognized the need to evolve its pharmaceutical marketing model to a modern services marketing organization, evolving the ombudsman role to a more proactive navigator role that anticipated problems and eased access.

The liaisons spent a growing amount of time within departments addressing access issues with “just-in-time” solutions. Now embedded in departments, marketing reps were in a better position to identify needs and evaluate leakage. Access was improved and leakage was reduced.

“Communication is about reach and depth,” the authors wrote. MGH helped advance both by consolidating several disparate groups within the department to develop materials to support the ordering and scheduling processes. In addition to communicating through Radiology Rounds, they launched 20 email campaigns annually delivering more than 30,000 emails to clinicians and staff with the goals of delivering relevant information and increasing patient volume.

To address increasingly aggressive for-profit competition—with sales representatives setting up shop in the hospital and even sending limousines to transport patients—the department used its well-developed communication channels to successfully launch an outpatient Open MRI site and leveraged Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter for a successful lung cancer screening campaign directed to patients.

Phase III: Business- and Patient-Centered Operations

Patient experience is at the center of MGH Radiology’s current marketing effort, which began with the establishment of a patient experience team in 2017. Historically, the department focused its marketing efforts on referring physicians, recipients of radiology’s tangible products of report and images.

In extending to patients its marketing goals of establishing better communication and closer ties to stakeholders, MGH Radiology recognizes that it provides the patient with an intangible product, a service experience. “To meet new higher patient expectations for having a good experience, we recognized the need to develop new approaches to service and the patient experience,” the authors wrote.

The PE team delved deep into customer research, studied operations, and establish frameworks to be used across the entire department. Still early in this phase, the team began by documenting the entire patient journey from provider selection to results delivery. It also reviewed clinical documents, such as exam prep sheets, and found significant discrepancies.  The team identified 100 unique instructions within  the EHR, many of which included outdated content and contradictory instructions. 

“It was decided to consolidate all clinical materials and link content from a single source of truth to maintain consistency and accuracy across the department,” they wrote.

After a review of the MGH Radiology web site, it became clear that referrers and trainees were prioritized over consumers and a complete overhaul of consumer-facing content was undertaken.

In conclusion, the authors wrote that the greatest barrier to developing an effective marketing function was a misunderstanding of the value and potential contribution of marketing, traditionally viewed as a tactical rather than strategic function. ”When the potential  of marketing to positively impact an imaging practice is fully understood and brought to bear, it can become a strategic differentiator between radiology practices,” they concluded.

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