Kickstarting Your ASCs Robotic Surgery Program
HEALTHCARE MARKETING STRATEGY
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As the Director of Business Development for a Western US independent ASC, Maria Todd is a rare breed of strategist bringing advanced marketing and branding practices and tactics. She leverages clinical, ASC administration, health law, and health plan contracting, and medical tourism program development her clients in 116 countries.
Orthopedics and sports medicine surgeons are giddy with glee over robotic surgery advancements in orthopedics. The join their sister and brother surgeons in other specialties that have been growing their robotic surgery programs, worldwide.
For a long time, robots meant da Vinci® Si™ Surgical System or Aesop and were used in urology and laparoscopic gynecologic and cardiac procedures. Then came other applications and other robotic surgery systems. Now we have Mako, NAVIO, Omnibot, and others that each do their own thing a little differently than the others. For me, as a former OR nurse and administrator, the fun of marketing robotic surgery systems has been increasing over the past fifteen years.
Many of these devices are carefully controlled by the manufacturers when it comes to FDA-cleared advertising promises, inferences, and positioning. They won’t allow maverick marketers to say “whatever they want” about the robotic capabilities, outcomes, messages, comparisons, and use cases. That makes it difficult for a marketing or advertising generalist to learn what they need to know to start promoting your robotics service.
For every minute they spend working on your assignment or learning how to plan a strategy to work on your assignment, you’ll be paying for that at a rate of more than a dollar per minute (on the low end in a secondary or tertiary marketplace) for the average advertising and public relations or social media marketing consultant.
Move your assignment to the bright lights-big city consultant and you’ll likely face invoices for upwards of five to seven dollars per minute for them to learn what, how, why, when, so they can compose a story to attract your ideal customers to your program. And that doesn’t cover the cost of the printing, ad placement, video and live event production that goes with the strategy to be able to execute on it.
Whether it’s orthopedic, pelvic, cardiac, or other robotic-assisted procedures, the more your patients know and understand about surgical procedures that your organization can perform using robotic surgery, the better chance you have of capturing and growing market share.
For a non-clinically-trained marketer or administrator of an ASC, all the clinical jargon about minimally invasive surgeries and the promises of better precision for surgical procedures, lower complications and lower OR times can be confusing.
Promoting your independent ASC’s robotic surgery program can give your ASC the leading edge in the community. I say “can” because until you actually promote it with some investment into marketing, branding, promotion and advertising, none of this will happen. I say “can” because in reality, I don’t see ASCs do much in the way of marketing and promotion after in-depth research, nationwide. I even know of some who were offered matching funds to market their recently-purchased robotic surgery system who failed to spend the money and let it its availability expire.
The Venn Diagram of Robotic Surgery’s Ideal Candidates
Robotic surgery changes the surgical experience. Some patients are advised against having robotic-assisted surgery and the robotic approach is not available for every condition. This is especially true in the ASC where the admissions are generally restricted to elective cases where the patient has been deemed ASA 1 or 2. That’s actually the first hurdle your marketing or advertising adviser will need to understand – our language and frames of reference. Their ideal target listener, viewer, reader, or event attendee is actually a subset of the all the patients within the addressable who might benefit from the accuracy and consistency of robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery.
Next, in many robotic surgery procedures, the ideal candidate is a senior needing a knee replacement, hip replacement, prostatectomy, hysterectomy, or other worn out “parts” that need repair or replacement. To maximize content marketing in the digital world, you must prioritize your content in order to successfully spread brand awareness, engage audiences, and increase admissions to your ASC for procedures using your robotic surgery systems. Depending on age, gender, socio-economic status and education, your marketing and advertising consultant must zero in on that part of the Venn diagram to connect with the market: attention span, where they are in their journey, how to build awareness when memory may not be what it used to be for new information, and how they use the internet to consume content and use it to take next steps.
Following content consumption, the next challenge is to describe your surgeons’ expertise and experience to use a robotic surgery system. That may be tough if they are newly certified to use the robotic system. What are you going to say? “…s/he has extensive experience with robotic-assisted knee replacement surgery, having performed 3 cases two partial and one full replacement over the past four months”? Not likely! But where will they get the experience? That’s been my most challenging tap dance for many clients. I can’t publish that, so what can I publish to make prospective patients “go first” with your new robotic system?
So, not only do we need to say the right things, say them in an effective way that connects with the market, we must be mindful that not everyone with the same diagnosis is a candidate, they may not have the ability to remember new information they just read, they may not consume information digitally, and the doctor may be new and inexperienced with the robotic system even though they are very well qualified in their specialty outside using the robot!
Are you still thinking your local marketing or advertising generalist consultant in town is up to the task? If they aren’t here are some things you can do for yourself or with help, but you’ll need to hold the reins until they’ve proven they are capable to produce “results” and “revenues” rather than “reach”.
When we first moved to St George, Utah from Denver to retire, I dusted off the golf clubs, tuned up our bicycles, updated my photography equipment and bought topographical maps of BLM land and the national parks with hiking and cycling trails. And cookbooks! Lots of cookbooks. I subscribed to Wine Spectator, Saveur, and other periodicals that had absolutely nothing to do with healthcare business administration, marketing, branding, medical tourism, accreditation, or managed care contracting.
And then I read about St George Surgical Center and its administrator testifying before Congress on healthcare price transparency. OMG! A Kindred Spirit! I had to reach out. Five months later, I was hired as their part time, Director of Business Development. The rest is history.
Truth be told, I wasn’t ready to retire. Not just yet. In this role, I’ve relearned, polished, confirmed hunches and theories I’ve executed, and developed entirely new skills.
Tools, Tips and Tactics for Marketing Robotic Surgery Procedures
I want to share a few important tips for marketing robotic surgery no matter what system you’ve purchased. I hope they will help you and inspire you to at least try to market your new robotic system on your own. If you need help, I still offer guidance and advice as a consultant. I am not a “contractor” who will do it for you, but I can guide your local expert and build their capacity to help you if you need adjunct staff outside your ASC to get the job done.
- Brand Blitz tactics. The first step is name recognition for your ASC. People think “hospital” when they think surgery. It will take years to change this. Our ASC is 31 years in business and people still say “Who?” “Where?” “Is it safe?” “Really? My surgeon operates there too?” “I can save how much?” “Can I go there with my insurance?” Or “I always wondered what they do in there!” ASCs tend to poorly market their brand, worldwide. They view themselves as a “wholesaler” health facility. In most cases, patients don’t “request” to have surgery at the ASC, they are instructed to report to the ASC at a certain time on a specific date. Most ASCs have inadequate digital brochures – and underutilize their website and social media channels for one main reason. They don’t know how to market or promote the retail aspect of what they can offer in terms of better pricing, cash pay surgery programs, and convenience. As a result, the general public doesn’t realize that they are safe, render high quality care, often offer lower infection rates and lower complication rates than the local hospital competitors, at about 60% lower cost. And for knee replacement surgery, Medicare will begin to allow knee replacements to be carried out in ASCs next month for the first time. Your time to get cranking on brand blitz tactics is N.O.W.! That’s because you’ll need 12-20 touches for the target market to realize its you making all that racket!
- Get listed. In addition to marketing the robotics on your own ASC’s website, find out if there are other directory websites that can make it easier for patients to find you. One is SurgeryShopper.com, a national website that lists inspected and vetted ASCs and hospitals that offer bundled case rate procedure pricing and zero-interest financing for self-pay patients and cost containment to benefits advisers, self-funded employers and unions and TPAs. Get listed on SurgeryShopper and other sites. I know that SurgeryShopper is building out a dedicated section for robotic surgery – because I am developing that section, personally. Patients can easily click on a nearby hospital to find out more. If your hospital is not listed, no one can find you.
- Show what you know. At SGSC, we are creating a robust section on our new website (currently in staging and under construction) describing our new NAVIO robotic surgery system for knee replacements. We’ve made quite an effort to get the brand blitz underway. Our budget of $125,000 for print, billboards, events, video, and other marketing advertising and promotion for the 2020 calendar year is impressive by ASC standards. Robotic technology is new to many patients. Some patients may be wary. Merely advertising “Now offering robotic surgery” won’t work. That’s “feature” selling. We aren’t selling the robotic system, we are selling the “benefits” of having surgery with robotic assistance. And while as a former OR nurse, I am not phased blood and guts in a picture that shows the gory details of orthopedic “carpentry” many patients and prospects are not as comfortable with all the graphic images in still or video photography. But at the same time patients are interested in how a robotic procedure works. They want to know if the robot does the surgery or is it the nice doctor they’ve come to trust? Our new and improved website will have a detailed history of the NAVIO robotic technology, the procedures available and patient information that can only go so far. Beyond that cutoff point, we invite patients or prospects to call and we’ll connect to them to our NAVIO qualified staff surgeons. We’ve already invested in an explanatory video production by a professional cinematography producer and voiceover talent, but it also included B-roll shot in our ASC with our doctors, patient interviews in English and in Spanish, and an explanation of the different surgical procedures. The videos we’ve commissioned offer a visual glimpse of the technology and how it works so patients can understand the procedure even better. This reduces fear while demonstrating our surgeons’ expertise and experience with the robotic system. you can also see a similar page I created on SurgeryShopper.com for this tactic. In this case, I’ve contrasted and compared three systems found in use at provider facilities in the SurgeryShopper network.
- Patients as the protagonist; not the robot! Patients are curious if their condition can be treated using robotic surgical procedures. List your robotic procedures on your website so patients can clear the first hurdle on the road to candidacy. Avoid spending a lot of space and time in your content design on discussing their disease. That’s the surgeon’s job; not the job of the ASC. Give specific, detailed information about the robotic procedure for the particular conditions indicated that are available at your ASC. If you are looking to promote your new robotic procedures to payers or benefits advisers, don’t cram them all on a single page. Speak to each audience with relevance. And your attention getting headlines for ads, billboards, and other content is not about “breakthrough technology” because you aren’t selling the technology. You are promoting quality care, pain reduction, convenience, lower prices, and such. Make a two-column chart. List the features on the left side column to get them out of your system, on the column to the right list the benefits realized and by whom. Those are your headlines. Your photos can be a mix of people who have benefited (past tense) from their robotic procedure (worth the 1000 words) and maybe a pic of the robot in use, sans bloody guts or carpentry. Nobody wants to see the surgeon hammering away at pins and knees. Many don’t even want to see simulations.
- Be a conduit of information. Patients are looking for informative content before undergoing a surgical procedure, especially when the procedure is something cutting-edge and new. As mentioned above, include information, in the form of patient testimonials on video detailing their story about having had robotic surgery and its benefits.
- Invite the surgeons to participate in the marketing Let the doctors speak. I encourage our surgeons to participate in marketing and promotional opportunities and events and I support them with ghost-writing, creating their PowerPoint slides, and more. they make money for the ASC when they are operating, not when they are writing articles, posing for pictures and giving interviews in videos or commercials. Through either an article or video, have your doctors discuss why they like using your robotic system: the enhanced visualization, greater dexterity, superior precision. Also encourage them to share patient benefits via anecdotes of anonymous patient triumphs in which they have participated. Hearing a doctor’s opinion provides a personal yet professional element to the discussion. It also adds SEO value for all concerned. We also sponsor “Lunch with a Doc” events where we pay for a room and catering and in the span of two hours, one of our surgeons gives a small consumer-oriented presentation and answers questions. We’ve invested in the marketing system to manage the invitations and RSVPs, and we’ve invested in the pull up banners, table covers, printed materials, and graphic design for the invitations so that everything is brand coordinated. It matches what they see in local magazines, print, billboards, social media and more.
Patients are eager for information on robotic surgery, and want to find facilities where their insurance is accepted or special cash pay pricing is available for these cutting-edge procedures. Provide that information and prove your expertise with the robotic system you’ve selected. As your technology partners for help and licensed and approved collateral you can use for marketing, website, and other advertising outlets. By anticipating your patients’ questions and allaying their fears, you’ll become their go-to source for minimally invasive surgical care. They’ll also like the bragging rights to their friends and family that they had their surgery with robotic assistance – a badge of honor and courage.
Do you have questions about marketing, branding, event planning, payer contracting or medical tourism program development for robotic assisted surgeries?
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