The Value Broadcast: Marketing Your Worth to Hospital Clients

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A great relationship with a hospital or health system is a mutually beneficial one. In the days of independent hospitals and small radiology practices, radiologists and hospital leaders interacted regularly.

As hospitals have grown and consolidated into integrated health systems, however, hospital CEOs are not bumping into the radiology practice leaders in the hall anymore. In fact, they may not even be in the same city.

As a result, while radiology group leaders generally have a good handle on exactly what they do to benefit their hospital partners, the hospital and health system leaders may know comparatively little about what their radiology group does for them. “If you are at a hospital of 30 beds, you are going to see the CEO on a daily basis, and the CEO is going to see your results on a daily basis,” according to Juan Carlos Batlle, MD, director of marketing at Radiology Associates of South Florida (RASF), which provides radiology services at seven Baptist Health South Florida hospitals. “That is not the case as we get bigger and more decentralized.”

Marketing is critical to bridging this knowledge gap at hospitals that are now often part of ever larger healthcare systems—but it has to be the right kind of marketing. Major health system decision-makers are flooded with incoming information and marketing appeals. To be heard, your message must resonate with them and arrive in a form that stands out from the crowd.

On behalf of the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA)—whose motto is progress through sharing—we asked RAST and two other leading groups that are members of the RBMA (Greensboro Radiology, Greensboro, N.C., and Riverside Radiology, Columbus, Ohio) to share some of the strategies that have been effective in reaching their hospital leaders.

Seeing is believing

One new method of practice marketing presented last year at the RBMA Fall Educational Conference by member group Greensboro Radiology is video. Video may seem an odd choice for a targeted appeal to a relatively small group of hospital and health system decision makers, but done right, it really works well say Worth Saunders, CEO, Greensboro Radiology, and Scott Wilson, director of operations, Greensboro Radiology.

The secret is starting with a good story that really illustrates what your group is about and the advantages it brings. Greensboro happened to have a great one to share in its 2014 assumption of professional radiology services for Alamance Regional Health Center, a 238-bed medical and surgical hospital in Burlington, N.C., that had just gone through a merger and become part of the not-for-profit Cone Health network. The transition went very smoothly, so Greensboro decided to try producing a video case study about the impact to the hospital, referring physicians and patients when it became the new radiology group for Alamance.

Making the video was fairly simple, explains Saunders, and didn’t require contracting with a large and expensive marketing firm. Greensboro worked with a local freelance marketing consultant the group had used previously. She helped script the video, conducted all the interviews and brought in the right videographer for professionally recording and editing the interviews together. From the practice’s perspective, the hardest part was coordinating everyone’s schedules so that all the interviews, plus the B-roll video of the hospital could be shot in a single day.

“We have a really super executive administrative assistant named Holly Messick who makes it look easy, but when you have busy referring physicians and radiologists with clinical responsibilities and you need them to commit to a 30-minute interview in one place on one day, it is challenging,” Saunders says. Sound and lighting are important, so it is worth spending a little to get a professional videographer rather than doing the video in-house, adds Wilson.

Once the video was created, Greensboro found that it could be repurposed in multiple ways. Parts of the interviews that did not end up in the video case study were used as short clips for sharing online with the broader audience of patients and referring physicians. Quotes from the interviews also proved suitable for a traditional white paper and brochure.

Although Greensboro did not send the video to any hospital leaders as a conversation starter because of a concern that it might seem overly aggressive and even predatory to existing hospital groups, it is used in follow-up conversations when hospitals approach Greensboro about what the group offers. Sharing the video is as simple as sending a link to either the YouTube upload of the video or embedding it in PowerPoint presentations, Saunders explains.

Wilson notes that the shelf life on a video can vary, but in general, “Something like this is good for two to three years, and as many as six to a dozen individual videos can come out of one day of shooting. “It really cuts the costs down when you can do something like that,” he says.

Use your data

Another strategy growing in popularity when it comes to marketing to hospital and health system leaders is annual reports. RASF was one of the first practices to start publishing an annual report for its hospital and health system partners, Batlle says.

The first RASF annual report came about three to four years ago when the practice had to renegotiate all of its managed care contracts. It needed a data-driven way to show the managed care companies that RASF was a very large and sophisticated group with subspecialty expertise and services smaller groups could not easily match, Batlle says.

Gathering all of that information, however, and putting it into attractive tables and graphs was time consuming. After the negotiations were over, the group considered if there was a way it could get some added use out of all the work it had done to prepare for the negotiations. An annual report seemed like an obvious solution.

“Although this came out of a need for supporting materials for managed care negotiations, it was clear that this annual report would serve more than just that role and that this was something for our hospital leadership,” Batlle says. “It really got a favorable reaction from our own healthcare system and beyond. The CEO of Baptist Health, the biggest employer in South Florida and a multibillion dollar organization, told us he read it cover to cover.”

Tell your story

Annual reports work because they are educational in nature says Marcia Flaherty, CEO, Riverside Radiology and Interventional Associates, Columbus, Ohio. According to Flaherty and Batlle, marketing to hospitals and health systems is about building relationships through the sharing of valuable information. An overly self-promotional brochure or flyer containing very little hard information will not work. Like RASF, Riverside produces an annual report that has been well received by the 27 hospitals it works with.

To give just one example of how important telling your group’s story can be, Flaherty tells the story of Riverside’s last annual report. The group picks a theme for each of its annual reports and this one focused on how it supports leadership development and training for its radiologists.

“The comment one hospital CEO made to me [after the report came out] was, ‘I had no idea you were involved in that leadership development piece with your medical director,’” she says.  “The CEO had a great medical director and loved his medical director, but he was not aware of how our organization supports leadership development.”

The annual report also is a great tool for introducing the group to other hospitals that may want to work with Riverside, she adds.  It is helpful in recruiting new radiologists to the group as well, because it provides a good overview of the group’s interests, capabilities and capacity.

No practice too small

For smaller groups with fewer marketing resources, justifying the return on investment of creating annual reports or videos for a relatively small targeted audience of hospital leaders may seem difficult, but don’t let that stop you, Batlle says.

“Any effort in this regard helps,” he says. “I don’t think you can have too small a group to produce a short annual report or create some kind of collateral that the hospital can use when they are going out to market their imaging services. You’d be amazed how often the people doing the marketing for the outpatient imaging centers for the hospital don’t know who the physicians are, how to contact them and what kind of studies they perform.”

Relationship-based marketing to hospital leaders is also part of the equation. These efforts are largely free, although they do require some time.

“It is all about relationships,” according to Mike Suddendorf, executive director of Premier Radiology Marketing, which assists Riverside Radiology. Suddendorf stressed the importance of being proactive in developing relationships with hospitals and not to assume that this will simply take care of itself if your group does good work. Annual reports are great, but don’t overlook building stronger relationships with hospital leaders through participation in hospital committees, connecting on social networks like LinkedIn and even sending good old-fashioned personal notes occasionally, he advises.

If your group has its own marketing presence, even a small one, also use that to collaborate and support the hospital’s marketing. A simple thing Riverside Radiology did was to showcase its hospital partners on its website.

“It demonstrates to potential new hospital partners that we integrate with our partners on multiple levels; it strengthens our relationships with our existing hospitals,” Suddendorf says. “We also circle back to let them know when we’ve posted their events on our social media. This demonstrates that we’re supporting their marketing and fund raising efforts through our communication outlets.”

While you may need to scale your effort to market to hospital leaders up or down given your resources, it should not be zero. “I would encourage all practices to be able to track what you are providing, how you are providing it, and how you are delivering the service,” Flaherty adds. “I think it is inherently our responsibility to share that with our hospital partners.”

Eye on new technology

One of the reasons videos and annual reports are now fairly inexpensive and appropriate for even a highly targeted audience like hospital leaders is that digital technology brings down the production costs. This trend will continue and create possible future new methods to stand out from the crowd and reach hospital leaders.

Greensboro Radiology’s IT sister company recently used a card with a built-in Wi-Fi-enabled video player to send a short informational video as a follow-up to all attendees of it annual summit for imaging executives. With each card being around $40 to $60, it was not an inexpensive effort, but it wowed their intended audience with its novelty, Saunders says.

“That got a great reaction,” he says. “People were sharing it with other executives saying, ‘Look at this!’” As costs of technologies like this come down, it could also be used with hospital executives as a highly targeted follow up piece to other education efforts.

The key to making both low cost and high-end efforts to market to hospitals work is knowing the audience concludes Flaherty. Hospitals and health systems are dealing with the same trends of industry consolidation and healthcare payment reform that radiology practices are.

Helping to educate them through marketing on how radiology can partner with them and help address these mutual challenges is what will prove a practice’s value to hospitals.

 “An annual report is a great tool as everything in this world tends toward scale and in that movement from volume to value,” Flaherty says. “We really want to be speaking about the value we can bring.”