Sex Appeal: Heart Centers Cater to Women

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In February, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston launched its Women's Cardiovascular Health Program with a concentrated marketing blast that coincided with Heart Month. Using radio, print advertising and an in-house cardiovascular newsletter, the campaign helped build the program's brand, but that exposure didn't translate into phones ringing off the hook with patients clamoring for consultations.  

That is expected to change come mid-June, when the program offers a free public patient education forum on women's cardiovascular (CV) health. "We first were trying to get the word out to both the medical community and the general community that the program exists," says Margaret Pantridge, marketing manager at the CardioVascular Institute at BIDMC, of the February push. "Our event in June is more likely to generate appointments."

BIDMC is not alone in efforts to target women with cardiac care programs. In March, the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City dedicated a women's center within its Center for Advanced Heart Care. George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and BIDMC's Boston neighbor, Massachusetts General Hospital, all offer heart centers or programs designed to better serve women who have heart disease, are at risk or want guidance in its prevention.

Like many of these initiatives, the Women's Cardiovascular Health Program is testament to the growing recognition of the burden of heart disease in women. In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death in women who are 65 years or older. And women with CV conditions often present differently from men, for instance, women may not experience chest pain with an MI.   

"There is a dramatic under recognition of how to identify heart disease in women, what the risk factors are and how to reduce those risks," says Loryn S. Feinberg, MD, medical director of Women's Cardiovascular Health Program at BIDMC. "There still is this divide between men and women."

Building a relationship with female patients also provides an opportunity to grow market share. Women make approximately 80 percent of healthcare decisions for their families, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, earning them the titles "CEO of the household" and "healthcare gatekeeper" in marketing circles.  

BIDMC's program includes 11 cardiologists and sub-specialists—seven women and four men—with expertise in issues related to women, such as the risk of heart disease in women treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy for breast cancer.  
To raise awareness among primary care physicians and specialists, Feinberg lectures on women-specific heart issues. She and her colleagues also use their website, written materials and newsletters to maintain the drum beat. In this way, they not only get the word out about the women's program, but they also educate their peers and patients about subtle sex-related differences in CV disease.  

The February launch was geared more toward clinicians than consumers. In June, they will present a free educational public forum at a hotel. It is an outreach strategy BIDMC employed previously with a focus on atrial fibrillation. "We had 350 people who were wildly enthusiastic about the information presented by our doctors," Pantridge says. "We hope to have a similar hit this time."

Whether the formation of these centers is a trend that will stick is hard to discern, says Lisa Clough, director of communications and marketing at WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease. As a service to women interested in such centers, WomenHeart considered developing an online resource to centralize information. "It was challenging," she says, because the centers seemed to come and go. "It is a moving target."