RBMA: To thrive, imaging groups must dare to be different

2013 05 22 11 53 46 524 Rudisill Tina 200 20130522190402

Radiology practices face serious challenges in their efforts to be the preferred imaging choice in their markets, especially because the field is so crowded, according to a May 22 presentation at the Radiology Business Management Association (RBMA) meeting in Colorado Springs, CO. The key to survival? Truly distinguishing your group from other providers.

And the competition is legion. Radiologists are now competing with dermatologists, neurologists, cardiologists, and ob/gyns, along with all types of surgeons, according to presenters Tina Rudisill and Gail Schwartz, president and vice president, respectively, of Marketing Works in York, PA. To thrive, imaging providers need to focus on what they can bring to the table that is different.

Gail Schwartz, vice president of Marketing Works.Gail Schwartz, vice president of Marketing Works.
Gail Schwartz, vice president of Marketing Works.

"If you don't know what makes you different, how do you expect referring physicians or patients to understand?" Rudisill told AuntMinnie.com. "Imaging centers have to be evocative [and] communicate to their market what clearly distinguishes them from the competition."

Groups need to identify the qualities of their practice that are worth talking about, are exceptional, and are new or interesting, Rudisill and Schwartz said. It's not just the group's marketing person who determines this: Everyone in the organization needs to own their role in the marketing of the group's services.

"Marketing isn't a person or a department, it's a culture," Schwartz told AuntMinnie.com. "Everyone in the group contributes, from the janitors to the physicians."

If a group's marketing is the responsibility of all its members, it's important to keep this in mind when hiring, according to Rudisill and Schwartz. Consider the abilities of the group's members and assign tasks accordingly.

"People mostly think about hiring for a skill set, but you have to hire for culture as well," Schwartz said. "If a group spends time and energy up front coaching new hires, not only will they get better employees, but their efforts benefit their customers. Look at your pool of radiologists and assess who's really good at what. Perhaps the radiologists who really love what they do could go on sales calls."

Rudisill and Schwartz outlined four steps groups can take to identify these differentiators and to begin to take advantage of them.

Tina Rudisill, president of Marketing Works.Tina Rudisill, president of Marketing Works.
Tina Rudisill, president of Marketing Works.

1. Stop thinking like a radiologist

Radiologists value things like great technology, quality images, and detailed reports. But groups need to understand and own what's important to their "customers" (i.e., referring physicians and patients), Rudisill and Schwartz said.

Referring physicians want easy scheduling and access, fast report turnaround, simple and clear reports, peer-to-peer relationships, and guidance about what types of studies to order. Patients value quickly scheduled appointments, prompt results turnaround, being treated with respect, and responsiveness to concerns. Do the homework and identify what your customers really want.

2. Determine what makes your group different

Differentiation requires that a center actually be different, Rudisill and Schwartz said. It's not enough to say that the group's radiologists are board-certified, that its equipment is state-of-the-art, or that its staff is friendly and knowledgeable -- these attributes are assumed. The key is to consider how expected items such as equipment, hours, service levels, the center's environment or amenities, and its radiologists can set a center's services apart.

3. Spread the word

Promote your brand in unexpected places and in unexpected ways, like attending local fairs and offering scheduling for screening mammography, Rudisill and Schwartz said. Also, rethink your logo: "How many group logos have radiation waves in them?" Schwartz asked. "Why work so hard to look so similar?"

4. Deliver on your promise

Only choose those differentiators that you can really support, Rudisill and Schwartz told session attendees. Change what you can change and influence what you can't. Measure and monitor your marketing strategies consistently.

"Radiology groups should take a page out of the hospitality business," Schwartz said. "Look for more ways to get in front of patients, and treat your marketing efforts as an ongoing process."

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