Radiology and Obstetrics: A Missed Marketing Opportunity

About 3 months ago, my husband and I found out we were expecting our first child. Last week, we went for our 20-week ultrasound. This is the day when parents-to-be can answer the big question:  Boy or girl?

CareContent partners with one of the nation’s leading children’s hospitals on a blog and Facebook page about children who need heart transplants. Most of the parents find out during the 20-week ultrasound that their newborn will need a heart transplant.

That said, gender was just one question among many. (I already had a hunch it was a boy, anyway). I also wanted to make sure all the vital organs were developing properly, especially the heart.

One week before the ultrasound, I called the hospital to make sure a radiologist would be there to answer my questions. But when my husband, my mother and I arrived, it went like this:

“Why do you want to talk to him?” said the ultrasound tech. “Well, I’ll have to see if he’s available…he’s got a stack of scans this high, so he might not be able to talk to you.”

“Oh, and she can’t come in,” the ultrasound tech added, referring to my mother. “The room’s too small.”

Here’s a couple of FYIs for marketing radiology and obstetrics:

The 20-week ultrasound is a big deal

Especially for first-time parents and grandmas. I’ve actually been invited to “reveal parties.” These are pre-baby shower events to reveal their unborn baby’s sex to close friends and family. Parents-to-be show off their ultrasound scans. If bets were placed, all the losers pay up for guessing the gender incorrectly. And if a name has been chosen, that also gets revealed.

At the 20-week ultrasound, the patient is still a prospective patient

The deal has not been sealed just because I’m having an ultrasound at your hospital. I can still switch to deliver at a competitor.

The family-centered model of care doesn’t begin and end with the birth

If your hospital has renovated its maternity wing to accommodate more visitors during labor and delivery, great! But what about making sure the family can be involved during other milestones in the pregnancy, like the 20-week ultrasound?

And here are a couple of questions for radiologists:

Why don’t you guys like talking to people?

You’re like the Wizard of Oz or those coders at high-tech startups who are so hypnotized by what’s on the screen that they barely acknowledge people.

Do you know you’re being outsourced at alarming rates?

Teleradiology is not just a trend, it’s becoming standard practice at many hospitals. Instead of relying on a team to read images on-site, the hospital just emails the scans to radiologists in other countries for less time and lower costs.

Jonathan Clark, assistant professor of health policy and administration at Penn State said more than ½ of all hospitals are using teleradiology services. His estimate may mostly refer to X-rays, CT scans and MRIs, especially if they are needed during the emergency department’s night shifts when many hospitals are short staffed.

But, is it possible that outsourcing could expand to include pre-natal ultrasounds? I don’t know much about the radiology field, but I’m guessing that connecting with patients and drawing in referrals could offer some protection against being outsourced.

Dr. Radiologist, We Want To Hear From You

Aside from the gender, I wanted to ask things like:

  • Do you see 4 heart chambers?
  • Do you see 2 kidneys somewhere?
  • Does he have two arms and two legs?
  • How’s the spine look?

Legally, the ultrasound tech can’t give any readings. She can only take images, which is why I wanted to talk to the radiologist.

“Well, we’ll send them to your OB, and she’ll tell you the results at your next appointment,” the ultrasound tech said.

Um…no. I’m here now. My next OB appointment is in two weeks. There’s no reason I should have to wait that long just because Dr. Radiologist doesn’t think I’m important enough to spare 5 minutes.

Eventually, he did come in, but he too looked confused about my questions: “Why do you want to know that? Do you have a family history of congenital heart defects?”

“No, but this is my child,” I said. “Isn’t that reason enough for me to be concerned about whether he’s developing properly?” (And yes, it’s a he.)

If you’re a radiologist, here’s something you should know:

I’m sure more moms-to-be would love to hear from you during the 20-week ultrasound appointment. We want you to tell us how great those four heart chambers are looking. Sit next to us for a sec and point out that good-looking spine on the screen. Tell us giddy parents-to-be that the baby’s size looks good and other fun-facts about our little bambino.

That way, we have other cool stuff to show off at our reveal parties. And we can tell all of our other pregnant friends to go to you for the same awesome scans and cool information. You know we get pregnant in groups, right?

Now, this is one patient’s perspective. Radiologists and healthcare marketers, I’d love to hear your side: Could you lace some great patient experience tactics and education into the 20-week ultrasound?