The Marketing Imperative: Effectively Promoting the Hospital-based Practice

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Marketing plays a critical role in hospital-practice alignment and recognition of value-added services.

Running an efficient radiology enterprise requires keeping a close eye on expenditures. In this equation, spending marketing dollars on promoting a hospital-based practice may seem unjustified. After all, a practice may ask, isn’t that the hospital marketing department’s job?

In today’s changing healthcare environment, a “not-my-job” perspective on hospital-based practice marketing may be unwise, says Deborah MacFarlane, MBA, a member of the Radiology Business Management Association’s RBMA U faculty and president of HealthEdge Consulting in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

MacFarlane has developed a new course for the RBMA U online learning community specifically on the role of marketing in hospital-radiology practice alignment. She is passionate about the topic because in reviewing more than 20 requests for proposal (RFPs) for hospital-based radiology groups, she has noticed that hospitals across the board are looking for practices that are willing to become more involved in quality, safety and yes, marketing of the hospital-based practice to referral sources.

“In every single one of the RFPs that I have been involved with, the hospital-based radiology department has either had flat [patient] volumes or declining volumes,” MacFarlane says. “Hospitals have not on their own been able to grow their market share in the outpatient radiology marketplace, and so they are now asking radiologists to participate in marketing the hospital radiology department.”

Even well established practices are at risk. One RFP MacFarlane assisted with was for a practice that had held the same hospital contract for 42 years.

It is no accident that hospitals are issuing so many RFPs now, MacFarlane explains. Three big forces are coming together to make hospital administrators examine the relationship with their hospital-based radiology groups and seek to partner with groups that will really step up their game in quality, safety and marketing. The first is that there are new Joint Commission standards specifically for the delivery of medical imaging in the hospital setting.

Secondly, payors are moving toward reimbursing based on quality metrics and hospitals need the radiologists’ involvement in tracking quality data and seeking continuous improvement.  A third factor is the emergence of big regional and national radiology services providers that can offer hospital systems subspecialty reads, around-the-clock service and the scale to be a one-stop-shop for all the system’s radiology service needs.

In this environment, a practice that cannot show increasing patient volumes and has not been diligently marketing itself to its hospital administrators, executives at the health system level and the hospital staff and referral sources, will be starting at a disadvantage, she warns. “Marketing evolved in radiology in the outpatient imaging center [setting], and hospital-based radiologists have always been of the mindset that if they sit in their dark room, it will come,” she says. “They did little to attract referrals to the hospitals and they just took it for granted that that would happen. Any sort of service levels that were involved with the referring physicians was the hospital’s problem.”

Not too late

The good news is that marketing of the hospital-based radiology practice is not that difficult once a practice commits to putting some resources behind it. MacFarlane advises starting with good old-fashioned relationship building with the hospital staff and administrators. If members of your practice hold directorships within the hospital, help your radiologists leverage these positions into posts of true leadership where they begin to advance initiatives instead of passively reviewing ideas brought to them.

Schedule meetings with hospital staff and administrators. Ask for honest feedback, listen thoughtfully and then develop action plans for the top problems identified. If referrers complain that the radiologists are hard to reach, for example, set up a single number they can call in order to quickly get their questions answered, MacFarlane says.

Finally, remember to reach out to the hospital marketing staff and support their initiatives, she advises.

“That hospital marketing person is your friend,” MacFarlane says. “You need to embrace them and go out and talk to them. You also have to be willing to participate in the hospital’s marketing efforts. If in