Marketing, Promotion, Public Relations

Becoming a Natural at Customer Service
Coping with the Breast Imager Shortage

Becoming a Natural at Customer Service

It could be the failure to meet his eye, or talking to her in medical jargon she doesn’t understand. As in any industry, customer service goes a long way in radiology. It can be the difference between a glowing recommendation and a thumbs-down review, and in a business that depends on referrals and word of mouth, it’s especially important to master the skills of proper medical etiquette and plain ol’ decency.

In October, Coastal HealthTrain, of Virginia Beach, Va, offered a free online course that employed human resources insights to help health care workers become better service providers. Titled "Customer Service: Natural as Child’s Play," the course is delivered via the company’s ClarityNet HD, an e-learn-ing format that combines training and full-screen, high-resolution video. Axis Imaging News spoke with director Bill Anderson to find out more about course offerings and how they have the capacity to improve business operations.

IE: How did you come up with the idea for this course, and what was its inspiration?

BA: We send out an annual product survey to our customers, and this was a subject they asked for. Also, customer service is a mandatory training subject by some health care accreditation bodies such as The Joint Commission. We developed and released this training program in 2005. It takes the average student about 1 hour to complete the course.

IE: Your course gives the participant flexibility in choosing from 30 sto-ryboard template styles and six different skins. Why was it important to offer such diversity?

BA: We feel that the power of online e-learning training is the instructional design and varying degrees of interactivity that can be brought to the learning experience. The more the student/employee actively participates in the learning through visual, audio, embedded questions, and interactive exercises, the more effective the training retention. Our various storyboard template styles reinforce this instructional design philosophy and make for stronger elearning courses. The six different skins are a little simpler in purpose—give each individual learner the power to control the on-screen presentation to their color preferences.

IE: What are some ways to improve customer relations?

BA: Our course training objectives highlight the human resources insights, such as the benefits of treating co-workers and other departments as customers, first impressions should not be underestimated, treat others the way that you would like to be treated, effective communication, and handling a problem. Many of these are common sense, and subject areas all of us have been taught in previous customer service training.

IE: How significant are customer relations and first impressions?

BA: They are both very significant. In all businesses, customers have choices on whom to do business with. In health care, especially, the doctor’s or specialist’s office relies upon repeat business—building a clientele of loyal customers who keep coming back for service. That’s the essence of customer relations and first impressions: treat people so that they will continue bringing their business back to you.

IE: What are patients’ common complaints when visiting their doctors?

BA: Although we are not a health care provider, our customers and anecdotal feedback say that common patient complaints and caregiver resolutions are being treated like a number and lack of personal contact with the caregiver. We are told that this has been changing very positively over recent years as health care providers make time to bring the personal touch to medicine. Also, not understanding what the doctor or technician says—put it in layman’s terms—and being talked down to.

IE: It’s interesting that your course includes communication and the factor it plays in customer service. How is adherence to HIPAA an indicator of good patient care? Do most practices follow HIPAA regulations?

BA: This is a good question on HIPAA. Adherence to HIPAA rules and requirements shows a health care facility’s commitment to their patients’ confidentiality and privacy. Following the letter and spirit of the HIPAA rules provides patients defined communications channels to their providers—channels they can use to clarify their care.

IE: As you are aware, our publication is targeted at radiologists and administrators of radiology departments, practices, and imaging centers. Would the course be able to help them?

BA: Yes, this course will help radiologists and administrators strengthen the customer service of their practices. The course will help as a reinforcer of effective customer service practices and the good initiatives that I’m sure many or your readers have already implemented and are using daily.

IE: Can taking the course improve customer service and build referrals for these groups?

BA: Excellent customer service equals good marketing equals repeat and new business. All of the people you mention are probably small business owners. They are practicing their desired profession of health care, but they are operating a small business. Excellent customer service pays off in sustained growth of the practice.

—Elaine Sanchez

Coping with the Breast Imager Shortage

As the US population over the age of 40 continues to grow, there is a heightened demand for annual screening mammograms. But radiology isn’t keeping pace with the trend. According to research by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, more than 1.2 million women become eligible for annual mammography screening each year, while the number of radiologists subspecial-izing in breast imaging continues to decline. And the American College of Radiology reports that the number of Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA) certified facilities has declined more than 11% since 2000.

Chris Swab, director of physician and administrator recruitment for American Medical Recruiters, Ft Lauderdale, Fla, notes that there are reasons for the shortage other than shifting demographics. "Mammography is a very litigious area, and in some cases it doesn’t get the same reimbursement as other areas," he said. "The Society of Breast Imaging has around 1,800 members, while the Society of Interventional Radiology and the American Society of Neuroradiology both have around twice that."

The shortage means that breast imagers are in high demand— and recruiting them is more challenging than ever.

"Because breast imagers are taking 6, 8, even 10 weeks of vacation a year, they’re no longer really bound to any given area," said Swab. "They can afford to travel elsewhere for work. People who would normally rather live in small cities could be attracted to a practice in New York. It’s about the right position, not the right location."

So how can practices make themselves competitive to potential candidates? Swab says it’s all about incentives. "We’ve seen a large shift in groups willing to offer 100% breast imaging," he said. "That’s more appealing to breast imagers because they want to get away from reading other modalities." Offering breast imagers special privileges is another way to attract the best and the brightest: "For instance, some groups have eliminated breast imagers from being part of a call pool," said Swab.

But that’s just icing on the cake when practices are willing to offer mammogra-phers higher salaries. "Three or 4 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see starting salaries of $250,000 to $300,000," Swab noted. "Now we’re seeing salaries beginning at upwards of $400,000. They’re also throwing in various incentives that could have mammographers earning into the $500,000s within a year or two."

Getting the talented breast imagers through the door is just the first step. Retention is also increasingly important, which is why more and more groups are having potential hires meet as many players in their practices as possible. “It’s crucial to make sure people get along with one another, and with the nurses and technologists they’ll work with on a day-to-day basis,” said Swab.

Though many of these same techniques have been used by other waning subspecialties, like interventional radiology, there are some popular recruitment strategies that are unique to mammography. The structure of the radiology practice can be a deciding factor for many breast imagers. “We’ve seen several radiology groups who’ve split the breast section off,” Swab said. “That’s attractive to breast imagers because they often don’t have the same attitude as other radiologists. Breast imaging is less about practice or hospital politics and more about the patient, and the breast imagers deal with less of the political issues if they go out and establish their own division.”

But it’s not enough to have a separate breast center. That center now needs to present the same comfortable, spa-like atmosphere that women’s imaging centers have long used as a patient marketing technique. “People are really trying to doll up their breast centers,” said Swab. “It makes the experience more pleasurable for everyone involved.”

In the long term, however, the only real solution to the shortage will be increasing the number of mammographers coming out of training programs. “In the last 6 years, we’ve seen a big increase in radiologists going into interventional,” noted Swab. “I’m sure that will happen with breast imaging, but everyone involved needs to make a concerted effort to start educating med students, interns, and radiology residents about what the specialty is.”

—Cat Vasko