Tailored, Data-Driven Marketing Helps Grow OiA

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Outpatient-Imaging-Affiliates-thumbDavid A. Dierolf, Vice President of Performance Development (left), and Creighton Cook, Senior Director of Business Development (right), Outpatient Imaging Affiliates

by Patricia Chaney

Over the years, the profitability of imaging services has shifted back and forth between hospitals and freestanding imaging centers. Decades ago, hospitals dominated the imaging market, primarily providing inpatient services with some outpatient.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, outpatient radiology services shifted toward the freestanding market with a reimbursement advantage, and hospitals began losing more outpatient volumes to these freestanding centers. During the past decade, reimbursement advantages for radiology have shifted back to hospitals.

However, with more of an emphasis being placed on cost of care, that advantage will likely be coming to an end soon.

Giving hospitals a market advantage

Outpatient Imaging Affiliates (OiA) partners with hospitals or radiology groups to develop freestanding facilities and has 29 locations in 11 states, most of which are joint-venture operations with a few wholly owned facilities. (Editor’s Note: HCE previously spoke with OiA in 2009 about its joint ventures.)

“When OiA was formed in 2000, the goal was to help hospitals gain an entrepreneurial edge and to recapture outpatient market share lost to competitive entities,” Creighton Cook, senior director of business development, said. “We believe freestanding, off-campus imaging centers are the best way to deliver outpatient radiology services because we offer cost and service advantages. Hospitals need to realize this discrepancy and develop a strategy to compete in this new and changing marketplace.”

Cook said an MRI at a hospital costs about $2200, but at an OiA facility, it only costs $450, typically with the same equipment and same radiologists providing professional services. With more patients having high-deductible health plans, individuals are going to seek out these cost savings, as will payers.

“Payers are very supportive of us and will often steer patients to our facilities by letting patients know of the lower cost,” he said.

OiA offers to build and operate value-based freestanding imaging facilities for hospitals, many of which are large academic medical centers, and provides them with billing and collections services, marketing services, and other business services. Cook said OiA usually retains a minority ownership to avoid being viewed as a competitor, but rather as a facilitator.

Turning around a struggling facility

Although OiA usually develops partnerships, it also owns 12 facilities, including a new venture in Kentucky. OiA bought a struggling facility in Elizabethtown that was averaging two CT scans and seven MRIs per day. Within a year, OiA has upped those volumes to four CT scans and 16 MRIs per day, with plans to add ultrasound and X-ray.

As an overall rule, OiA seeks out markets before centers. It determined the struggling facility was in a growing market with a vulnerable competitor. In this rural area of Kentucky, the only radiology providers were based in the hospital, which charged high rates.

Marketing efforts to referring physicians comprise the primary strategy to improve business, and in a small town, it can be tough to change the ingrained habits of local providers. Cook said OiA reached out to physicians within a 30-mile radius of the center and emphasized that OiA can do the same scan as a hospital for less than half of the price.

“Sometimes it is a hard sell,” Cook said. “Many physicians still see patients as a $20 copay, but the light bulbs begin to go off when we talk about high-deductible health plans. However, sometimes, we still have to wait for the physician to need our services directly before realizing what that cost difference can mean to their patients.”

Developing personalized marketing techniques

Marketing to and building relationships with referring physicians is key to the success of any OiA facility, and Cook feels the company has a great data-driven strategy that is highly effective.

David Dierolf, vice president of performance improvement, heads up these marketing efforts primarily by giving the salesmen on the ground the data they need to tailor messages to each physician. Most patients go where their physicians tell them to go, although that may be slowly changing as patients take more responsibility for their healthcare.

Building trust with those physicians is the only way for OiA to gain referrals.

Dierolf analyzes the state of OiA’s relationship with each practice in the market, whether the physicians regularly refer patients, have never referred patients, or have stopped referring patients.

“I can tell our liaison that we just saw a patient for the first time from this physician,” he said. “That way, the liaison can tailor his message by thanking the physician for sending the patient, asking about service, answering any questions, and providing them with a point of contact.”

Dierolf said he views these marketing efforts as building the relationship from a prospect to someone who has tried the center once to someone who uses the center occasionally to a loyal physician who provides regular referrals.

“We want to move physicians across the continuum into the loyal camp,” he said. “We find that in all centers, the majority of our business comes from a small pool of loyal physicians.”

OiA also uses physician data to identify the top referrers, along with those who have potential and need extra attention. Dierolf said much of the turnaround success that has been seen at the Elizabethtown center has evolved from being in the field and talking to the right people. He said the people working at Elizabethtown have exceptional interpersonal skills and are dedicated to the job. He just provides them with good intelligence to guide their marketing activities.

OiA is constantly refining its marketing techniques to become more efficient in identifying potential and building connections within communities. It strives to keep the feel of a local center and never goes in as a national brand. So far, this strategy has allowed the organization to continue growing with steadily increasing volumes.

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