Make Vendors Your Marketing Ally

Jeanne-Marie Phillips, President, HealthFlash Marketing Communications

In times of tightening budgets, declining reimbursement, and an uncertain future, differentiating your practice and maximizing your profit have become more important than ever. There are various methods by which a small practice or hospital can do so, but one of the more proven methods is also one of the most basic: marketing campaigns. While shelling out the big dollars for an advertising campaign may be financially prohibitive for most individual practices, often manufacturers and vendors are willing to pitch in to assist their clients’ efforts to promote their business.

Jeanne-Marie Phillips, president of the targeted medical and health care communications firm HealthFlash Marketing Communications, has experience working on various marketing campaigns. The company primarily partners with manufacturers to promote new products, but in doing so, Phillips also has experience working on provider-specific marketing campaigns spearheaded by vendors.

“Many vendors are fairly sophisticated in the sense of marketing,” said Phillips. “You may get more resources from larger companies because they have more money to spend on it, but on the other hand, smaller vendors need customer purchases and partner with them in a much broader way. It truly is a partnership. ? Small companies really need to cultivate customer relationships.”

Because of the cost of marketing campaigns—sometimes in the range of several hundred thousand dollars—they are often difficult for health care providers to implement on their own. However, vendors can approach these campaigns in a completely different light. By accepting the cost as a one-time expense, they can assist numerous clients with the same resources, spreading the cost of the materials and preparation over an entire client base.

“Generally, [these promotional campaigns] are free because if you’re selling a hundred CT machines a year, spending $300,000 on advertising spread across all of those sales isn’t that much. But $300,000 per practice is pretty expensive. For the vendors, it can be a relatively cost-effective way to differentiate themselves as well as assist the practice.”

Phillips notes that there are two interest groups that health care providers need to market new products and services to: patients and referring physicians. Marketing directly to patients carries implicit benefits. Health care providers are able to directly relate the various benefits that treatment at their facility will bring to the patients.

Resonance Technology, a client of HealthFlash Marketing Communications, offers an interesting example of how a vendor supports a provider’s patient-targeted marketing efforts. The company manufactures a comfort product—video devices that make the MRI scanning process more pleasant for patients. According to Phillips, Resonance Technology offers an array of resources—from fliers to press releases—that providers can use directly with patients to differentiate their MRI facility by promoting the patient comfort feature of the exam. In the future, says Phillips, “Resonance is going to have a photo shoot and will offer a billboard that can be downloaded and personalized. They’re going to have a consumer ad that can be personalized for the practice.” (The program is still in development, and providers may share some costs.)

Many manufacturers offer educational brochures about their products and technology for providers to distribute to patients.

Some vendors, like Resonance Technology, offer advertisements targeted to patients or referring physicians that providers can personalize.

Communicating with Referring Physicians

Another vital way to grow business is to build relationships with referring physicians. Vendors can help providers do so—in more ways than one.

“I think that people are busy in today’s world, doctors especially so,” said Phillips. “Even something that might not come to mind easily—like a PACS with a really good option to communicate with referring physicians—if the referring physician is shown how he can benefit from it, these marketing programs absolutely work. I have heard of practices getting more business because referring physicians ask for an exam and have it on their desk in 2 minutes because of a communication system.”

Webinars, open houses, pamphlets, and white papers are some of the promotional tactics that health care providers can use to interact with referring physicians. Most of these resources, however, can be cofunded or produced by the vendor. Phillips acknowledges that sometimes, manufacturers will not have these resources in place immediately, but that often, they will customize an offering specifically for a provider to help that practice build referral business.

“I think the larger vendors may have more money and more formalized programs that they may offer to customers,” said Phillips. “If you work with a smaller vendor, you may have to ask, but they are usually willing to go out of their way to customize something for you like cofunding an in-house showing or doing a webinar.”

Finding the right marketing methods can be a challenge, though. Traditional marketing avenues like radio and television spots—which would work when marketing directly to prospective patients—are not the most effective ways to communicate benefits to referring physicians.

When discussing hospital marketing, Phillips advises that other departments within a hospital can benefit from these promotional methods, too. She believes that neighboring departments act like referring physicians and should be treated as such.

“In a hospital, other departments are like referring physicians,” she said. “They need to be made aware that this department has new technology. Often it doesn’t happen. It is important for hospitals to educate and communicate across departments about what they have [that differentiates them].”

In other words, the process is very similar to communicating with referring physicians. For example, noted Phillips, when a hospital acquires a new piece of equipment, they might hold an open house for the other departments to see the technology and discuss its advantages. “They can use a lot of the same material that might be used for referring physicians,” said Phillips. “You can look to the vendor for that.”

Clearly, vendor-sponsored promotional campaigns offer benefits to both the provider and vendor. The key is to seek them out, capitalize on them, and build your business. You can even ask for assistance if you are unclear as to whether a vendor offers an existing program. Phillips, to her knowledge, has never worked with a vendor that has declined a request for promotional help from a health care provider.

“I think a lot of times people don’t ask,” said Phillips. “I’ve worked with dozens of vendors over the years, and I can’t say that everyone has a formal program. But I can’t imagine any vendor I’ve ever worked with saying no to a purchaser that asks for marketing help, even if it’s just taking a press release and customizing it for the local media, which reaches referrers to some extent. I think most vendors would do that. Then again, I’m also working with vendors that seek our promotional help themselves so they’re of a certain mind-set.”

Ultimately, in this down economy, the ability to grow your practice is essential, and doing so takes innovative strategies and, often, financial assistance. Vendors—both large and small—are a cost-effective resource for these tools and are usually willing to participate because of the mutual benefit for both vendor and provider.

“Radiology practices need to start thinking a little more promotionally these days because obviously the competition for shrinking dollars is increasing,” said Phillips. “It doesn’t demand all that much. Most purchasers would be well served, if not presented with a menu of resources, to ask for the vendor’s help. I think they would save themselves time, effort, and expense, as well as be able to derive greater value from their purchase.

“In these difficult times when no one knows what’s around the corner in health care, the idea of partnership and mutual benefit between vendors and their provider partners is probably more important than ever.”

McKesson Corp will present solutions that help hospitals and practices improve their clinical and financial well-being, including:Horizon Clinicals, which provides a common view of the patient across settings and episodes of care, which enables the care team to deliver the best possible care;Horizon Enterprise Revenue Management, which combines innovative rules-based software, connectivity services, and best practices for managing revenue;Paragon, which is an integrated clinical and financial HIS for community hospitals that helps manage patient safety, revenue cycle management, and regulatory compliance;Enterprise image management and workflow solutions, which capture more of what organizations can earn by optimizing revenue, minimizing compliance risk, and guiding health care providers through complex reimbursement for radiology/cardiology diagnostic imaging.

— Chris Gaerig