Because most vascular centers are built on existing relationships participating physicians have established in their community, the centers enjoy a built-in referral base. The various modes of marketing practiced by vascular centers typically reflect that, but some are trying to expand outside those parameters as well.
Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute, Miami, has opted for a traditional approach to marketing its services. Since the institute is part of Baptist Health Systems, the hospital has assigned it a budget and a marketing manager responsible for promoting and advertising the Institute. The manager places special interest stories and information on new techniques and research on television news programs and in newspapers. Advertisements for the institute also are placed in local and national journals, newspapers, and magazines, and on radio.
Tweaking the Referral Base
Other centers are focusing less on outright advertising and more on nurturing the referral system that is already in place.
Rodney Raabe, MD, an interventional radiologist at Sacred Heart Medical Center, Spokane, Wash, notes that the vascular center in process at that location is specifically targeting primary care physicians.
“We are at the level of sending out information, identifying ourselves, and letting primary care physicians know we are an integrated vascular program,” Raabe says. “We are very active in screening programs, and really are trying to involve ourselves at the primary care level. So far that seems to be working.
“We do not yet have all of our brochures and paperwork developed, but we are working to brand ourselves as a vascular center. It takes a while to get done,” he says. “We’re definitely a work in progress.”
Raabe says the center is also planning to utilize Grand Rounds, a program developed by the Society for Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology (SCVIR) that involves sending information about different disease processes and procedures to physicians.
“Those are provided by SCVIR and they are very short, to the point, and done well,” Raabe says. “It will all be at the local level.”
Kieren Murphy, MD, director of interventional neuroradiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, chose to do a mass marketing campaign to 8,000 physicians. The campaign focused on information about interventional neuroradiology and vertebroplasty in the form of a brochure that included a card to fit into a physician’s Rolodex.
“The campaign also gave physicians the ability to ask for more information, and so far I have had more than 109 contact me for that. These are people who fall outside of our referral base,” he says.
The vascular center idea under way at Tufts University-New England Medical Center, Boston, is more conceptual than bricks and mortar, so its marketing revolves around the fact that there will be one point of entry to the system. The center is being presented to the referral base as an improvement in patient care, and a streamlining of the patient and doctor experience.
“We are focused on creating a method of entering and using the system, and getting the information back to the referring physician,” says Neil J. Halin, DO, chief of cardiovascular and interventional radiology, and assistant professor in radiology.
The group plans to hire a receptionist and have a phone number that can be used as an advertising point, giving access to scheduling in interventional radiology, noninvasive vascular laboratory, vascular clinics, and surgery.
“Anything patients need, they could get through that one contact point,” Halin says. “Then whoever sees them in the clinic can coordinate any other consultations they might need.”
While the hospital is not very aggressive in terms of television or print advertising, Halin says the vascular center would work separately to market itself in the community.
“This would be the kind of thing we have felt would need to be marketed by the center itself instead of the hospital. Some facilities go overboard, and some don’t even let people know they have a vascular center,” Halin says. “I think a good mix is somewhere in the middle-we don’t want to be obnoxious about it, but we need to let people know we’re here.”
The Web-driven Pitch
Many marketing plans are incorporating new technology, most specifically the use of Web sites. Prior to developing these sites, however, vascular centers need to decide whether that will be an entry point for appointments, a place to find information, or both.
Murphy chose to purchase every domain name related to what he does and develop Web sites for each one. The first site to be activated is www.brainavm.net, which includes information on vertebroplasty, platinum coils, balloon angioplasty, and stents; a link to an article about easing back pain; and an interview with Murphy. The site also allows for self-referral to Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Department of Radiology, Division of Neuroradiology.
“My intention is to develop a connected group of domain names that feed to our Web server, and that help give patients good information,” Murphy says. “There is currently a real lack of reliable information on the Internet, and what is there is not peer-reviewed.”
It is Murphy’s hope that the careful creation of Web sites such as the ones he is working on will make valid information accessible to everyone.
“I think it is wonderful that patients can move beyond their previous intellectual horizons thanks to the Web,” he says. “There are people who shop for their health care, and people who travel internationally for their health care. With the Web sites, although some users may be in different income brackets, they all are treated the same.
“For someone who is 80 or 90 years old, being able to find that information and make those decisions really emancipates them,” he believes.
Sacred Heart likewise plans to increase the amount of information available about the vascular clinic on the Web, and make it easy to get referrals via the Web site for clinicians as well as consumers.
“Our main focus is on public education and physician education,” Raabe says. “Though that can be listed as marketing, it is community service too.”
The center at Tufts will utilize an already existing site to drive Internet traffic to it.
“The vascular surgeons have a Web site, so we will probably co-opt that to be a Web site for the whole center,” Halin says.
While the Internet allows centers to reach a bigger audience, the biggest marketing impact may not be from a high-tech source, but from a very old-fashioned method: personal contact. Murphy makes a point of returning all his own calls, much to the appreciation of physicians and patients. He also lets physicians and radiologists in the community spend time in the center, developing friendships and watching procedures.
“Many physicians are not user-friendly to people in their own institutions, let alone to those outside the institutions,” Murphy says. “Often, they are actually some of the most difficult people in the hospital. Likewise, large teaching hospitals are usually not respectful of the skills of people in their community. You must be nice to people.”
The physicians who contacted Murphy also will receive reprints of articles on the topic of interventional neuroradiology.
“I also make a habit of getting back to those who send their patients to me for the first time,” he says.
“There is nothing unusual in what I’m doing. In fact, I don’t know of any other way to do it,” Murphy says. “I am just trying to build a community atmosphere.
“These models exist elsewhere, but physicians don’t normally think like this,” Murphy says. “The most important thing is to understand this is a service industry. You must respond to people and give good results. All the marketing in the world won’t cover up for sloppy work.”
Liz Finch is a contributing writer for Decisions in Axis Imaging News.