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When Marketing Clinical Technology, It’s All or Nothing

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, July 14, 2010

The first leg of the campaign launched in October of 2008 and introduced the community to the Brain & Spine Institute at Sacred Heart's iMRI Smart OR, which was one of only six in the country. The second leg of the campaign launched in November 2009 and announced the opening of a second Smart OR for spine and trauma surgery at the Brain & Spine Institute, this one containing a sophisticated intraoperative computed tomography (iCT) scanner. Having both suites made Sacred Heart the only hospital in the country with both iMRI and iCT neurosurgical technology.

To get an idea of the feeling of the campaign, view the iMRI Smart OR movie trailer. It does elicit feelings—but not the warm and fuzzy kind found in many healthcare ads. The sharp imagery and the up-tempo music convey a sense of urgency, competence, and modernity. You might not be sure if the nurses at Sacred Heart will hold your hand, but you know you'd want to be admitted if you had a serious condition that this machine might help diagnose.

To capitalize on the look and feel of the campaign, marketers developed a tagline projecting the notion that the hospital wasn't only investing in technology—it was investing in technology designed to "Change Your Thinking" about what was possible in medicine.

Preliminary results have proven that this approach worked. Although Swanson says the effects from this type of campaign can take years to show, Sacred Heart's community perception saw an immediate bump after each leg of the campaign and the hospital experienced a halo effect for several other service lines.

"Neuro services is at its max of cases," Swanson says. "Physicians have come from other hospitals to look at the equipment and understand what it does. We've been getting referrals from a much wider area as people understand the capabilities of the OR."

Any marketers know that the most successful strategies highlight their organization's empathy as well as technology, but sometimes promoting both in every effort you put out just winds up watering each down. Sacred Heart's approach proves that consumers appreciate clinical technology as much as a doctor who will take the time to carefully review a prognosis. Besides, word of your staff's kindness has a way of getting around on its own—imaging devices just aren't water-cooler fodder.