Deficit Reduction Act Survival Kit, Part 3 -- Growing the business

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AuntMinnie.com presents the third installment of a three-part series titled the Deficit Reduction Act Survival Kit. Each part offers concrete suggestions for thriving, not just surviving, in today's DRA environment. This final section addresses how to grow an imaging business, either through expansion, acquisition, or merger. Click here for Deficit Reduction Act Survival Kit, Part 2 -- Attaining operational excellence. Click here for Deficit Reduction Act Survival Kit, Part 1 -- Leading your imaging center.

Growing the business

You have heard the list of dynamics that play in the market. Here are some of them: competition from imaging centers, physician self-referral, aging population, high costs associated with keeping current with technology, and the role of consumerism.

Maintaining the status quo is no longer sufficient for survival. What steps can be taken to grow and compete ethically and effectively? The first place to start is to look at the numbers. How does the growth of imaging in your local market compare to your imaging volume for MR and CT? Are you growing as fast as your local market? Beating the market? Staying even? Or losing market share?

Growth is achieved by implementing an effective marketing and communications plan. Marketing diagnostic imaging is operationally defined as the management of strategic relationships. Imaging center relationships can be identified as the center’s radiologists, referring physicians and their office staff, and others. Any failure to develop and maintain a strategic relationship might lead a referring physician to send patients to other facilities.

In order to be in a position to execute an effective referring physician marketing campaign, four tasks must be accomplished:

1. Write a plan to promote your services to referring physicians.

Some written marketing plans have a mind of their own -- they wind up on someone’s bookshelf, unused and unopened. The plan does not have to look like a business school term paper. The plan, which is focused on referring physicians and their office staff, should include the contents of the table below.

Plan contents Examples taken from imaging centers
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Vision To be a provider of choice of outpatient diagnostic imaging in our market, practicing in a friendly environment by exceeding patients' and referring physicians' expectations.
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Strategic direction Drive growth and increase market share
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SWOT analysis* List strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the imaging center
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Marketing objectives
  • Increase MR volume by 10% on new 1.5T scanner during the next calendar year.
  • Increase referring physician office satisfaction level by 25% within one year after scheduling glitches are fixed.
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    Key Message
  • Convenience
  • Hassle-free registration and referral process
  • Next-day appointments
  • Same-day report turnaround time
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    Strategies and tactics
  • Visit targeted referrers' offices
  • Distribute referral guide
  • Get office staff of referrers to visit the imaging center
  • Conduct outreach events
  • Distribute capabilities literature
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    Timeline Mailings, visits, events, etc. to be planned for one year by month
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    Budget Expenses for design, printing, postage, web site to be developed
    Cc99 Ff Dot
    Evaluation Develop dashboard to monitor implementation of plan
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    *Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats analysis

    2. Develop a budget for the marketing program.

    The marketing budget can be a sensitive issue for imaging center management. It seems no one can agree on how much to spend and where to spend it. A typical marketing budget for an imaging center might include funds for graphic design, printing and postage for referring physician and patient literature, Web site development fees, cost of promotional items, costs for special events, such as "lunch and learn" or open houses, and development and placement of print and broadcast media (if appropriate in your market).

    Some imaging centers budget funds for their marketing representative to attend conferences, such as the Radiology Business Managers Association (RBMA) meetings. In addition, imaging centers budget for the cost of their physician representative’s membership in such organizations as the RBMA.

    3. Designate a full-time person (or persons) to act as a liaison between your center and referring physician offices.

    Who makes a good physician liaison? A technologist? Someone with a pharmaceutical sales background? A retail customer service or sales person? The person who succeeds as your representative must first and foremost fit into the culture of your center. This is a service position, so if a referring physician wants someone to discuss the technical aspects of the new 64-slice CT scanner, it is best to bring along a technologist.

    4. Build an up-to-date database tracking physician referrals by volume.

    This database should take the form of an easy-to-read, one-page dashboard. This dashboard tracks the top 25% of referring physicians by how many MR and CT patients are referred. Use this dashboard to keep up-to-date on referral patterns and trends. This is probably the most effective way to measure the impact of marketing efforts aimed at referring physicians and their office staff.

    With these basics in place, you can use the following three rules of growth to guide your efforts.

    Growth Rule #1: Get your house in order before you go out and market.

    Why implement a marketing program to increase referrals if you have a long appointment backlog or if reports are not being turned around in a timely fashion? Referrers do not expect service levels to be anything but excellent. Attaining operational excellence should be your goal prior to launching a major referring physician marketing/communications program.

    Growth Rule #2: Effective marketing requires continuous monitoring and modification.

    Individual marketing/communication programs must be evaluated on a regular basis to ensure effectiveness. Fine-tuning existing tactics and trying out new ones will make a big difference in the overall effectiveness of your efforts. With the advent of new imaging capabilities, new information must be communicated to referral sources on a regular basis.

    Sharing too much technical information, however, might overshadow the benefits for the referring physician. It’s more effective to tell referrers what’s in it for them rather than focusing on the details behind the technology.

    Growth Rule #3: Rule #2 will not work unless you are out and about in the market talking directly to referrers, their staff, and community-based groups.

    The needs of your referral sources change over time. Referring physician office personnel change over time. Of course, insurance reimbursement plans change over time (many physicians opt in and out of plans on a regular basis). The best way to collect this type of information is for the physician representative to not only visit referrers but to attend local business and health seminars and conferences.

    The DRA and other reimbursement cuts may have a negative impact on all medical services. The good news is that there are concrete and practical methods to generate additional revenue, improve process flow, and manage cash within the imaging center. The time is now to start exploring the toolkit and making some changes. If it is not possible to initiate an entire makeover of your imaging center, start by developing strong leadership and management systems as a first step.

    By Evan Leepson
    AuntMinnie.com contributing writer
    August 7, 2007

    A business and strategy consultant to the diagnostic imaging community, Evan Leepson is a senior consultant for GE Healthcare Performance Solutions. His speaking engagements have included presentations to the California Radiological Society Annual Meeting, Economics of Diagnostic Imaging: National Symposium, Radiology Business Management Society Annual Meeting, and the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators Annual Meeting.

    Related Reading

    Deficit Reduction Act Survival Kit, Part 2 -- Attaining operating excellence, July 30, 2007

    Deficit Reduction Act Survival Kit, Part 1 -- Leading your imaging center, July 23, 2007

    DRA takes bite out of GE's Q2 numbers, July 16, 2007

    It may get worse before it gets better for diagnostic radiology practices, July 9, 2007

    The DRA at six months: How outpatient imaging centers are coping, June 26, 2007

    Copyright © 2007 AuntMinnie.com

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