Although declining reimbursement led to a fall in sales of 64-slice CT scanners in 2007, practices with sufficient volume can still make their technology investment pay off, thus bringing marketing to the fore in the battle to maintain or increase market share. Despite the decline in sales, 64-slice scanners are still selling, and with recent innovations in the field — such as Toshiba’s Aquilion ONE, a dynamic volume CT with 320 detector rows with 0.5mm elements — the challenge for both new and established practices is keeping the cardiac CT scanner busy enough to at least break even.
Early adopters had the advantage of touting a new technology. Now that the bloom is off the rose and more practices and hospitals have the technology, you’ve got to find another way to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Marketing is the key—but how, when and who to market to are questions you’ve got to answer before you can get started. This isn’t a problem you can just throw money at and expect to succeed. In fact, some approaches don’t require much money at all, just some creativity on the part of the physicians and marketing staff—if any—in your practice.
State of the Heart Cardiology in State of the Heart, Texas, not only succeeded in getting far out in front of the competition in terms of early adoption of cardiac CT angiography (CTA) technology, but also has focused its marketing efforts to capitalize on cardiac CT’s strength: to noninvasively image the heart like no other technology. “We have spread the word to our referring, primary-care physicians and providers by bringing them in our office and showing them the scans and how the technology works,” says John Osborne, MD, PhD, a solo practitioner. State of the Heart purchased a Philips Brilliance 64-slice CT scanner in December 2005 and does approximately 1,800 CTA scans annually.
Osborne doesn’t just show referring physicians sample high-quality images—rater, he actually invites them in to get a free CTA of their own hearts. The result? “Phenomenal,” says Osborne. “Once they experience the technology themselves and see their own results, they totally get it.” This guerrilla marketing approach is quite effective for Osborne, who estimates that more than 90 percent of all primary-care physicians who get a scan end up referring patients to his practice. Other practices have found success in this and alternative approaches.
Cardiology Associates in Mobile, Ala., also was an early adopter of cardiac CTA, says CEO and Administrator Vance Chunn, installing a GE Healthcare LightSpeed Volume CT scanner in 2005. It succeeded in building momentum by holding educational presentations for primary-care physicians, informing patients about the technology through its in-house newsletter and getting coverage of its physicians and the technology in local media, among other approaches.
Other cardiology practices have succeeded with techniques that include placing physicians on radio talk shows to answer questions about the technology; getting feature stories in local newspapers and TV segments produced; sending staff to visit primary care physicians in their offices; meeting with corporate executives to inform them about the technology; featuring staff versedin the technology at community events, including service club meetings and health fairs; and offering seminars with continuing education credit and the opportunity for question and answer sessions for primary-care physicians and other primary-care providers.
When marketing your practice, you can try a number of approaches, including marketing to patients, the general public, private-practice leaders and/or primary-care physicians; a public relations campaign to get attention in your local newspapers, magazines, radio and television outlets; and so-called “guerilla” marketing tactics. Guerilla marketing involves unconventional and low-cost marketing tactics and strategies (see Guerilla Marketing).
While public relations and guerilla marketing tactics don’t require the publication and advertising budgets that a more traditional marketing campaign entails, they aren’t without cost. You either need a non-physician staff member to coordinate marketing and public relations activities or you need to devote physician time in concert with administrative staff efforts, or both.
Regardless of which approach you take, a number of successful cardiac CT practices have found that focusing on the following basics before implementing