AHRA 2017 preview: Compete now or pay later

In the business world, it’s a given that competition is good for consumers. Battles over market share tend to drive quality up, push prices down and spawn new products and services. When it comes to healthcare, however, some see competition as a dirty word. Shouldn’t caring for patients be closer to a public service than a commercial enterprise? On some levels, absolutely—but not on every level, suggests David Partridge.

“It’s very important to understand that our patients are also consumers and that you are competing for every consumer,” explains Partridge, imaging director of OhioHealth’s 15-site Neighborhood Care division. “It’s equally important to discern who your competition is and what they’re doing to compete with you. The risk is failing to recognize all aspects may potentially result in lost patient volume and loyalty.”

And losses in volume may lead to programmatic changes, decreased hours of availability and fewer resources to invest in quality and service. Competition, then, is good for patient care, as he told HealthImaging in a pre-show phone interview.

Partridge will share business-of-healthcare insights gleaned from across 17-hospital OhioHealth, which serves a catchment area spanning 40 counties, on Tuesday, July 11, at AHRA’s annual meeting in Anaheim. Look for the talk titled “Competition: Strategies to Grow Volume and Keep It.”

Reaching referrers

One of the areas of activity Partridge spotlights is marketing to referring physicians. OhioHealth is doing a number of things on that front, including maintaining “one call to reach any radiologist” accessibility.

For this, OhioHealth uses a 24-hour call center developed by their partnering radiologist syndicate. Any referrer wishing to speak with a radiologist, including a subspecialist, can call the line at any time. Calls are screened by trained staff members who direct the referring physician to the appropriate radiologist. This bypasses incorrect pages and calls, saving both parties time and lost work minutes.

“This has been the greatest communication tool for referring physicians I’ve ever seen,” says Partridge. “The radiologist group is highly invested in it because of the convenience it has created for them. That makes it even better for us.”

On this project, he says, the collaborating parties started small and implemented carefully. “It’s a challenge to develop and coordinate a project that changes the standard way people are used to communicating,” Partridge says. “But once they see the results, it’s immensely impactful for them.”

The call center doesn’t directly generate revenue but improves service, he points out, and that is the return on investment. The radiologists view this investment as time saved by reducing interruptions and clarifying orders early in the process.

“It’s hard to figure out what that downstream revenue of happier referring physicians is going to be. That can make this sort of thing a challenging sell,” Partridge says. “But this radiology group had the vision to see the end goal and keep it in mind. Sometimes success comes down to your group and their willingness to take risks to achieve the vision.”

Highlighting hospitality

Another way OhioHealth markets to referring physicians is by holding a physician resource fair. Referring providers send office staffers who come to meet, greet and, of course, grab a bite to eat.

“When they hear there’s direct contact, a time for community and they can do it during their lunch break, they decide it’s worth the investment of time,” says Partridge. While there, the attendees connect names with faces and pick up marketing and informational materials to bring back to their offices.

These kinds of events “really let you capture the attention of many area office staff members, all at one time,” says Partridge. “And again, you will see the downstream revenue, in the end, of much happier provider groups. They appreciate that you are making their staffs’ lives easier and ultimately providing the best patient experience.”

Partridge says OhioHealth also has a number of direct-to-patient marketing programs as well as a concierge service.

He comes back to the earlier point that it’s not a bad thing to see yourself as competing in a healthcare market. In fact, he says, competition is healthy for your local market and, by extension, for the communities and patients you serve.

“If you don’t recognize that,” he says, “your competitor does.”