Marketing, Promotion, Public Relations

Maximizing Print’s Potential
Boosting Customer Service Through Patient Experience Mapping

Maximizing Print’s Potential

One of a series of advertisements from Radiology Ltd’s award-winning campaign.

Four years ago, when Stephanie Boreale joined Radiology Ltd, Tucson, Ariz, as director of professional relations, the practice didn’t even have a marketing department, much less an organized means of advertising its services to the community. All that changed when the business launched its Better Imaging Technology campaign, which was honored by the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA) with a gold Quest marketing award for best advertising.

“For a very long time, our group, despite being a substantial practice, flew under the radar,” Boreale noted. “We worked very hard to brand Radiology Ltd and put a message out to the community so they could better understand the basics of radiology. That part of our new campaign was our biggest hurdle.”

Radiology Ltd’s campaign consisted of a series of print ads, designed in-house and distributed on a budget of around $15,000. The ads depict a silhouette of a man, with boxed radiological images derived from various modalities illuminating different areas of his body. The idea is to emphasize the practice’s subspecialty services, which are what set it apart from the local competition.

The campaign was aimed at both patients and referring physicians, and materials were customized for each market. “We’ve incorporated different aspects in terms of the language, and depending on the audience we adjust the level of educational material,” explained Boreale. “For that reason, we are very careful when we create the language in our advertisements so it appeals to either the referring physicians or the patients.”

To maximize the potential of the print advertisements, Boreale and her team looked for publications with long shelf lives. “We used the lifestyle magazines in town, which come out on a monthly basis,” she noted. “We also looked to the arts for advertising opportunities and reserved space in their playbills. We put our ads in the programs for the symphony, the theater, the opera, and a jazz festival.” The advantages of playbills are twofold: “A lot of people hold on to their programs,” Boreale pointed out. “And the same ones are used night after night.”

Another challenge for Radiology Ltd was marketing women’s services. For one thing, patients seemed to be less aware of the women’s imaging centers—even when they were located in proximity to the diagnostic centers. Another obstacle, Boreale noted, is that women’s imaging services are inherently different: “You’re promoting services that patients have control over.”

Operating from the same print template as the original run of ads, Boreale and team came up with a new color palette involving greens, pinks, and grays; they also shifted the focus from technology to epidemiology. “The technology is definitely an important aspect, but I don’t think it’s the most important for the women’s campaign,” Boreale said. “We created a different, but complementary brand for the women’s centers, and we use lifestyle shots instead of clinical images. We also decided to include facts and statistics to make our message stronger.”

So far, the campaign has been very successful, Boreale said. “The community now has more knowledge about who we are and what we do,” she said. “They’re starting to see our advertisements, and recognize our company. And we are even noticing that some of our competitors have picked up on our ideas, which is flattering.”

And the campaign continues to grow. “It’s evolved since we started,” she said. “Now we are showcasing specific services through targeted campaigns using the same ad concept. For a group our size, we pretty much do it all, and many of our patients and physicians were unaware of the array of services that we provided until now.”

—Cat Vasko

Boosting Customer Service Through Patient Experience Mapping

When it comes to customer service, no one has better information on an imaging center’s performance than the patients themselves. To tap into this resource, some facilities engage in patient experience mapping, a technique to gauge patient response to every interaction with the facility, including initial expectations, scheduling, staff interaction, parking and amenities, the treatment itself, and discharge procedures.

“Patient experience mapping is a means for organizations to develop a better sense of empathy with their patients,” said John McKeever, senior vice president of Gelb Consulting Group, Houston, and adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Houston. Gelb representatives help health care facilities incorporate patient experience mapping, whether by coaching the staff or by conducting the research themselves.

Experience mapping begins with a series of patient interviews. The most successful, according to McKeever, are “intercept interviews” that occur at the time of the patient’s office visit. These patients are normally prerecruited by the facility so they plan to stay an extra hour after their appointments. Financial incentives—whether a small honorarium or a donation made on a patient’s behalf—often help motivate participants. Intercept interviews also allow interviewers to speak with caregivers, who may have had more experience with certain aspects of the facility’s service, such as scheduling.

The interviews track the patient’s first-person account through the office visit, with particular emphasis on the patient’s emotions and feelings at every step. “What we’re trying to do is understand whether their expectations were managed throughout,” McKeever said. “Did they feel like the waits were too long, or did they feel like the technician really never made a personal connection with them?”

After the interviewing stage, the Gelb consultants and the facility’s staff use the transcripts to find common areas of improvement and also where the facility is doing well. Once the facility identifies ways to improve customer service, the next step is to choose which items to put into action and devise a plan to implement them. “Obviously, you can’t deliver everything that patients want, but at least understanding where they’re coming from is a step in the right direction,” McKeever said.

The final step of the experience mapping process is to monitor patient satisfaction. To provide facilities with an immediate feedback mechanism, Gelb has developed a customer-experience dashboard software application that processes customer surveys immediately and shows administrators any red flags at a glance. This allows staff to correct the problem that day and to perform service recovery efforts by contacting the patient immediately to discuss their concerns.

The surveys take 2 to 3 minutes to complete, and patients are encouraged to use a special kiosk or designated PC to fill out the questionnaire before they leave the office. Patients who do not choose to fill out the survey at the office are e-mailed a slightly longer version to complete at home. The dashboard software flags any “at risk” patients who were unhappy with their experience and automatically e-mails the appropriate administrators to handle the issue.

Sean Smith, director of operations for the 10 outpatient imaging centers for Memorial Hermann Hospital, Houston, is in the process of incorporating the dashboard software at all of his locations. While he has been using a national customer service survey to gauge patient satisfaction, the results detailing concerns often came 4 to 8 weeks after the patient filled out the questionnaire. “By that time, it may no longer be a valid issue, or we’ve been doing something wrong, or this has been causing people displeasure, for a number of weeks before we know about it,” Smith said.

With the dashboard software, Smith hopes to be able to address concerns immediately. For example, if a technician from an agency turns out to be upsetting patients, Smith can work with the tech that day to resolve the issue. “What we’re trying to do is to be proactive and actually give our directors the ability to see patients’ comments the same day of service so they can go out there and correct an issue that day,” he said.

The new questionnaire process has been tested at two of Smith’s facilities so far, and the preliminary results showed 10% patient participation at one facility and 30% patient participation at another—a vast improvement over the single-digit percentage rates yielded by the national survey. Smith hopes the tool will serve as a benchmark to measure their customer service against that of outpatient competitors in the area, but he particularly wants to give his staff the tools to continually improve the service experience for patients. “The real goal is to improve customer service,” he said.

—A.H. Carlson