The halcyon days of ensured financial success simply by virtue of being the community hospital’s radiology department are a thing of the past. Market pressures from independent imaging centers, other medical specialties utilization of imaging modalities, and targeted reimbursement cuts for imaging procedures from government and private payors require radiology departments to aggressively compete for patients.
However, the lion’s share of marketing budgets for most community hospitals typically are not focused on radiology services. In addition, the current global recession has every healthcare delivery organization reevaluating expenditures—and marketing personnel and campaigns cost money that is hard to come by as shrinking budgets come under scrutiny.
Regardless of the size (or lack) of a marketing budget, a community hospital radiology department can stake its claim to the market by increasing its brand awareness among its current customer base. If the department is well-regarded within the community and among its current patients and referrers, it has a distinct advantage over competitors.
For radiology, building this brand awareness and positive image is largely about the service provided by its radiologists, technologists, management and other healthcare workers.
“I link marketing and operations together,” says Patricia A. Kroken, a principal of Healthcare Resource Providers, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based radiology business consulting group. “You need to assess how easy, pleasant and convenient is it to use your facility.”
Kroken, past-president of the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA) and a fellow in the American College of Medical Practice Executives, recommends that radiology administrators check in with their technologists to take a customer service pulse.
“They’re the people who deal with the patients on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “They have a pretty good ear for what’s going on and what’s inconvenient about the facility’s operations and services, based on what they hear from their patients.”
Another no-cost operations assessment strategy is for the administrator to simply sit in the department’s waiting area and observe, Kroken says. A “mystery shopper” is a low-cost alternative for operations feedback if the administrator believes their presence will influence staff. However, simply sitting back and taking stock of the area is important.
“You’ll want to notice if the carpet is clean, if the furniture clean, if the magazines are less than two years old,” she says.
Elsa Ozuna-Richards, founder and president of REA Healthcare Strategies, a Reno, Nev.-based healthcare market research and consulting firm, also advocates “management by walking about” as a no-cost strategy to improve a department’s service, and thus its brand awareness among its customers.
“Ensuring that your workflow management is tuned to provide prompt appointments and quick report turnarounds will benefit a department much more than spending its money on an expensive marketing campaign or a high-priced marketing executive,” she says.
Ozuna-Richards emphasizes that the one thing that stands head and shoulders above all others with referrers is service.
“In all the years that I’ve been contacting referring physicians and surveying them as to what a radiology group can do to get more of their business, the one thing I hear over and over is that they want service and quality,” she says.
Both Kroken and Ozuna-Richards recommend that an administrator get on the phone and reach out to the department’s referrers and/or their staff.
“Ask them how you are doing and their views on the kind of service you provide,” says Ozuna-Richards. “To improve the service for themselves, they’ll be very candid with their recommendations.”
Kroken offered a final piece of advice: “If you interview your referrers on how to improve service, you are expected to commit to putting their suggestions into practice.”