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3 Secrets to Successfully Marketing Robotic Surgery

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   August 15, 2012

One of the many ways hospital marketing stands apart from commercial marketing is that things can get real technical, real fast. Sure, some product advertisements include technicality as a marketing tactic—I'm looking at you Dyson Ball Vacuum—but with complicated healthcare procedures, marketers have an obligation to inform the patient of what is involved.

The question is, how can hospitals most effectively get the message about complex technologies to potential patients? Let's look at the marketing strategies of two hospitals that boosted their rates of robotic surgeries.

1. Deliver the message via multiple channels
Southwest General in Middleburg Heights, OH, has recently been promoting robotic-assisted gallbladder surgery. The hospital's new da Vinci surgical system allows surgeons to use just one tiny incision in the patient's belly button, making the procedure virtually scarless.

The hospital's integrated campaign includes print, radio, digital advertising, and social media.

"The ability to provide the message in multiple media outlets amplifies the understanding and interest level by potential customers," says Albert Matyas, vice president of marketing and business development for Southwest General. "It is really about educating the public about the new technology so they can gain a better understanding and discuss it with their caregiver."

In 2006, the first year that Southwest General began conducting robotic-assisted surgery, about 24 were performed. Last year surgeons performed nearly 200 robotic-assisted procedures in gynecologic, urologic, and general surgery specialties. In 2012, the first single-incision general surgery procedure (a Laparoscopic Robotic-Assisted Cholecystectomy) was successfully performed.

At Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, MD, a January 2012 online campaign promoting its minimally invasive surgery offerings served up some serious results. The campaign delivered 42,000 impressions over the month and generated 51 clicks, a click-through rate of .12%. (The national average is .03%.)

Marketers also ran a print ad campaign promoting minimally invasive surgery in local weekly papers from January through June. All of the ads promoted the benefits of minimally invasive procedures: a smaller incision, less blood loss, and less down time:  patients typically get back to their regular lives quickly.

So messaging across multiple channels is key. But that's not all.

2. Take the message to the people
Southwest General also uses physician-based community presentations to provide a personal Q&A for potential patients.

Marketers have found that the community discussions are most likely to result in conversions to procedures because they give the patient a more complete understanding of the technology and the message is delivered on a more personal level.

And as part of its minimally invasive promotion, PRMC conducted three demonstrations of its daVinci robot: on site at the medical center, at a health fair, and at a nearby minor league ball park. At the events, promoters handed out literature and referred interested people to local physicians in its Peninsula Institute for Laparoscopic and Robotic Surgery (PILARS) program.

Like Southwest General, Peninsula found that the community events really hit home for patients because they personalized the complicated robot-assisted procedure.

"People have been more comfortable approaching our physicians at these events after sitting down at the da Vinci and seeing just how amazing it is and how easy it is to use in the public configuration," says Chris Hall, vice president of strategy and business development. "They want to speak with the surgeon about what it's like to use it in surgery, [they see] how much fun it was to test drive it themselves, and I have seen that lead to follow up questions and the seeking of medical advice from the surgeons on site."

3. Filter complex technical information

So how technical did Southwest General's and Peninsula's advertising get? Well, it depends where you looked. But both hospitals maintain that the true source of surgical information should be a patient's personal doctor.

"The intent of our marketing is to provide an introduction to the public to educate them about the technology and the availability of the technology in a community-based hospital setting—no need to travel farther distances to an academic medical center outside of the geography where they are comfortable," says Matyas.

"Proximity, coupled with experienced surgeons at the controls, is a powerful message."

Matyas also says that providing additional information through third-party websites, such as WebMD and ADAM, is acceptable and "allows consumers to investigate the technology further and form a more complete understanding of the technology. Questions that arise from their own investigating can then be a base for discussion with their surgeon."

Hall is mindful that each patient is unique and some are more interested in the technical aspects of the procedure than others, who just want to learn how quickly they can get back to life afterwards.

"I think people want to understand the procedure and why it is beneficial to go with robotic-assisted surgery over traditional surgery," he says. "The technical should be kept minimal, in my opinion, until the patient shows he or she is interested in more."

Both organizations agree that ads are not the place to get overly technical, but branded websites and microsites are a prime resource for patients to find more, detailed information.

"I think the hospital's obligation it to let potential patients know that robotic surgery is an option," Hall says. "The decision as to what surgical tactic is ultimately taken should be between the physician and his or her patient."


Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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