Marketing, Promotion, Public Relations

Advertising Direct-to-Consumer Builds Buzz

The CyberKnife system from Accuray features a linear particle accelerator that directs highly collimated beams of radiation to a tumor.

WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Ga, is the only medical facility in the state with the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System to treat tumors, and the hospital wants potential customers to know that. So WellStar has embarked on an aggressive marketing strategy by advertising on TV, radio, and billboards, and in magazines and newspapers. At the same time, the company also has sent representatives to civic groups and referring physicians. The result has been a flood of interest about CyberKnife. And even though many of those who call WellStar about CyberKnife have misconceptions about what the system is for, the company says its broad marketing strategy is worth it.

“I think with something like CyberKnife, you have to advertise big, because it’s an advanced technology that every other hospital does not have,” said Madge Reynolds, CyberKnife patient navigator for WellStar.

“There are physicians out there who have never heard of radiosurgery with CyberKnife,” she said. “And when you invest in technology like this, because the investment is large … to alert the community of this state-of-the-art cancer technology, marketing is essential.”

CyberKnife is a system with a linear particle accelerator mounted on a robotic arm, to accurately direct highly collimated beams of radiation to a tumor inside a patient’s body. The system is an alternative to cancer surgery for some patients.

When WellStar’s advertising was at its peak, Reynolds received up to 35 phone calls a day from people interested in finding out more about CyberKnife. Some callers lived outside of Georgia, and because WellStar chose to advertise its CyberKnife system with airline in-flight magazines, some calls came in from all parts of the country, Reynolds said.

Example of a brain treatment plan used in conjunction with Accuray’s CyberKnife system.

Many of the calls Reynolds received came from people who had seen an ad, but misunderstood what CyberKnife was used for. Callers asked if they could have cosmetic surgery with CyberKnife, not understanding that the technology is used only for tumors, Reynolds said. “The thing about me is I did take the time to talk to everybody; I don’t care if they tell me they had hemorrhoids,” Reynolds said.

But after explaining CyberKnife to callers who were misinformed about it, and eliminating them as candidates, Reynolds scheduled medical consultations for only about one person out of 100 who called.

To decrease the patient load on Dr Mark McLaughlin, who handles the consultations, Reynolds also had potential candidates for the procedure fax over their medical records to see if they were good candidates for CyberKnife. “If I brought in everybody to see if they’re a candidate, there wouldn’t be enough hours in the day for my doctor,” Reynolds said. “I would cause him to collapse.”

Since obtaining its CyberKnife system in October 2006, WellStar Kennestone Hospital has brought in more than 300 patients to undergo treatment with CyberKnife.

WellStar has a list of former patients who have undergone the procedure and are willing to talk with patients who are considering it. That has been beneficial for those patients who sought the advice, Reynolds said. “It’s like a comfort, a comfort talk—it relieves anxiety,” she said.

Mostly because of the success of WellStar’s media advertising, groups such as Kiwanis clubs and colleges contact the hospital to have a representative give a talk about CyberKnife. Reynolds said that she and McLaughlin speak to those groups about once a month, and McLaughlin also gives talks to medical societies in the evening. To increase physician referrals, Reynolds and McLaughlin have also gone to visit several physicians in the state of Georgia, and given them a PowerPoint presentation on CyberKnife.

—Alex Dobuzinskis