UCLA launched a marketing campaign to bring the radiology department out of the reading room and into the hearts and minds of the public and referring physicians.

Brenda M. Izzi, RN, MBA

It wasn’t long ago that the latest and greatest technology was the prime way to convince physicians to refer patients to your practice. While having a 3T MR and 256 slices of CT horsepower certainly remains impressive, radiology practices are realizing that marketing one’s practice needs physicians in front of their technology, as well.

A case in point is the University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Radiology. UCLA already had a great reputation, but administrators felt it needed to define itself beyond the hospital’s brand and directly reach out to consumers. Consequently, when a new outpatient center was being designed for a market 30 minutes away from the main campus, UCLA looked to RED Marketing, a boutique marketing firm that knows both radiology as well as the new community. RED designed a branding and communications package that not only maintains UCLA’s academic reputation, but also emphasizes the importance of patients choosing the right radiologist.

Focusing the UCLA Radiology Brand

Brenda M. Izzi, RN, MBA, is chief administrative officer at UCLA Radiology. When Izzi began to plan a new outpatient center in Manhattan Beach, she purposely wanted to set the new center apart, not only geographically from the main Los Angeles campus, but also from the general UCLA brand.

Izzi said, “We found very early on that UCLA, as a brand, is a very strong one, but the only thing that people recognized as UCLA were the hospitals. Radiology is not necessarily a hospital-driven service. It does provide hospital level imaging, but the majority of radiology is outpatient growth and expansion.”

Carrie Becks, ARRT

The UCLA radiology department had already developed robust outpatient services in a nearby clinic, with a total of 12 unique locations in six different buildings. They had a thriving cash-pay system for interventional vein and pain procedures, and word of mouth among referring physicians for their women’s imaging and orthopedic and sports injuries was also strong.

However, with the new Manhattan Beach outpatient center, they were entering a completely new community that was far from their main West Los Angeles physician referral base. To meet the challenge of building a uniquely branded imaging center in unfamiliar territory, the department sought a marketing voice that was more specific to their radiology needs.

Enter Carrie Becks, ARRT, founder of RED Marketing, located in El Segundo, a few miles from the new Manhattan Beach facility. RED not only was a local firm, but also specialized in the radiology niche, thanks to Becks being a former radiology tech and administrator. (“RED” is actually an acronym for Radiology Education Delivered.)

Becks said, “A typical advertising agency is not going to understand a PACS system or the benefits to patients and referring physicians. That’s something that we know about, and that’s why it’s important to have an agency that specializes in imaging and radiology.”

Becks knew that UCLA needed to brand the new center as UCLA affiliated, yet still build a reputation that would be recognized by local referring physicians. Her solution was to highlight not only UCLA, but also the radiologists as a trusted and accessible resource.

The New Face of Radiology

“In medical circles, marketing has always been looked down upon—it’s just not done,” said Becks. “In the past, physicians were able to get referrals from colleagues or the hospitals without having to have any printed materials, Web sites, or direct mail pieces to attract patients. When newly ordained physicians took the Hippocratic Oath, they didn’t have to market their services. Times have changed.”

Despite the consolidation of outpatient imaging since the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA), there is still a great deal of competition for outpatient imaging services. Gone are the years when you could “build it and they will come.” Highly competitive markets such as Los Angeles already have the latest and greatest technology in their centers with long relationships with local physicians.

Rather than putting technology in front of the physicians, RED’s strategy was to put the radiologists in front of the technology—and in front of patients.

“We are bringing the radiologist out of the basement and positioning them in front of the patient as a consultant to help direct treatment and to empower them to make the right decisions,” said Becks.

In addition, RED is educating the referring physicians about the advantages of UCLA’s subspecialty radiologists instead of relying on another practice that might have generalists. Becks said, “If you have a breast MRI, it should be interpreted by a breast specialist, not necessarily a neuroradiologist. If you are looking for sports injury-related services with ultrasound or MRI, that should be read by a specialist in that area.”

Izzi added, “We took ownership of our different product lines and developed a business team that meets together with IT and dedicated, department funded field marketers. We track referring physicians by name, the types of studies they send, the volumes they send, and their referral payor mix.  We also monitor overall procedure volumes to capture self-referrals.  It is a very sophisticated system for defining field marketer efforts related to products and product lines; whether we are in front of referring physicians or patients.”

One of the physician faces on the front line of this initiative is Jonathan G. Goldin, MD, PhD, vice chairman for business development and outreach, Department of Radiology, UCLA.

 “The visible radiologist is our new mantra,” said Goldin.  “It is important that patients know who is reading their images in the same way they get to know their primary physician or surgeon.  Nobody thinks about the fact that the person reading your scan is actually making a clinical assessment on further courses of care.”

The Marketing Plan

RED’s strategy for introducing its Manhattan Beach center and physicians to the community has utilized multiple media sources and feet-on-the ground resources.

Although Becks could not reveal the cost for the campaign, she said it was significant—though worth it. She sees the benefits of marketing as being directly proportional to the money invested in it. “Investing in marketing is the only way to get any kind of return. You have to invest and reinvest in your business.”

UCLA’s overall marketing budget has been allocated 60% toward reaching patients and 40% toward reaching referring physicians. Their target demographic is adults 25 and over with a household income above $50,000 in the South Bay-Manhattan Beach area. Because RED is local and medical focused, the company also has the advantage of being familiar with local referring physicians and can aid UCLA’s field marketers.

UCLA’s Manhattan Beach facility has been open for only a few months, but Brenda Izzi (seated), chief administrative officer at UCLA Radiology, says her branding campaign is already showing signs of success.

In terms of messaging, the gist of the campaign is to encourage patients to ask their doctor who is going to be performing their imaging and to realize that they have a choice when it comes to their imaging services.

Becks is using a wide array of media outlets, including print advertisements, a lecture series, brochures, direct mail pieces, newsletters, and event sponsorships. Her RED team is also redesigning a new Web site that will be distinct from the traditional UCLA design.

“Everyone should have a properly designed and comprehensive Web site,” said Becks. “It should be streamlined and easy to navigate, so that whatever the center wants to focus on, whether it is pain management, vein ablation, or anything else, the visitor encountering the home page will be directed through the content. It will follow the strategy we have for that visitor or patient to go through. Do we want them to pick up the phone and make an appointment? Do we want to educate them? The Web site is more than just an online brochure. It’s really a marketing tool.”

In a future phase two of the marketing plan, RED will be designing some radio and cable TV campaigns, as well as Internet marketing and movie theaters that show prescreening advertisements.

Becks noted that there are many affordable advertising options now because of media companies losing steady business. As a result, radiology centers utilize traditionally expensive print, radio, and cable television at significantly lower rates.

For the face-to-face marketing initiative to referring physicians, UCLA field marketing clinicians are still visiting physician offices and informing physicians about the Manhattan Beach center’s interventional services, technology, and physician access. In addition, physicians often participate in patient health fairs, directly engaging patients in conversations about women’s imaging screening and the interventional services.

Becks concedes that all of this face-to-face attention does require a commitment on the part of the staff. “Marketing doesn’t have to be expensive,” she said, “but it does require significant investment when it involves an FTE to act as a liaison to your practice.”

A Good Start

As of this writing, UCLA’s Manhattan Beach facility has been open for only a few months, but Izzi and Goldin agree that the program has been effective.

Izzi estimated that 80% of the patients who have come to the Manhattan Beach center have seen either a direct mail promotion designed by RED or newspaper advertisements.

Goldin added, “From day one, people had heard about us, and as soon as our schedulers were offering that Manhattan Beach venue, people said that they’d heard about it and that it was close to where they live, it’s easy to get there, so I’ll go there. So we’re very happy with the effect of our campaign that went ahead of our opening. It seemed to reach who we wanted to reach.”

Becks cautions that one’s marketing success will depend on a number of key factors, including the ability to successfully present the benefits of the center to existing patients in a highly competitive market. “Even if you are lucky enough not to have a competitor in your market, proactive strategies will maintain your patient volume, even when competitors find you,” she said.

Izzi also reported that UCLA Health System’s internal marketing group has been very accepting of RED’s participation in the development and launching of the Manhattan Beach center. With RED, it is getting more personalized attention than it might have with UCLA’s general marketing group.

She said, “RED’s benefit is their understanding of what we’re trying to do, and the fact that they are small means they are nimble and can give us personalized attention.  UCLA’s Marketing team is responsible for the Health System as a whole which is quite large and can create unwanted delays in turning around edits or final documents.”

Tor Valenza is associate editor for Axis Imaging News.