Radiologists put their best face forward with ad campaign

June 2, 2008

When it comes to getting respect, radiologists are apparently the Rodney Dangerfield of the medical profession.

When it comes to getting respect, radiologists are apparently the Rodney Dangerfield of the medical profession.

Surveys reveal that half of all Americans - including some very influential people on Capitol Hill - don't know that radiologists are doctors, let alone the amount of training and expertise required of them.

Though not surprising given the behind-the-scenes manner of practice, this image problem is one the American College of Radiology is taking so seriously that the group has launched a $1.5 million public awareness campaign called the "Face of Radiology."

The project kicked off April 28 with radio spots, newspaper ads, posters, brochures, and bill stuffers. By putting a human face on medical imaging, the ACR hopes to build a core of brand loyalists among the 110 million patients who get scans each year.

"We think it's important the public know they have a choice where they get their imaging care done," said ACR spokesman Shawn Farley.

He said that patients should know something about their medical imagers.

"This is their specialty, what they've trained for, and what they get continuing education for," he said. "It's a quality effort as well as a branding campaign."

After measuring the success of the first phase, ACR leadership will determine the next level, Farley said.

Nearly a year of research went into the campaign, which is being handled by Edelman Public Relations, a global firm, and includes DVDs that explain what a radiologist does and what a patient can expect at an imaging center. Patients can take an interactive quiz at My Radiologist.com, and physicians can find outreach materials at My Patient Connection.com.

The initial phase, which ended May 18, was tested in three markets: Miami, because Florida has the highest per capita imaging utilization; Burlington, VT, because its is among the lowest; and Washington, DC, where it's hoped federal legislators and their aides picked up on the message that radiologists play an integral role in healthcare.

Precampaign research showed most patients mistake radiology technologists for radiologists. It also highlighted that some people perceive radiologists as "passionless," so another component of the effort is encouraging radiologists to interact with five patients per day.

The conversation could go something like: "Hi, I'm Dr. Smith. You're here for an MRI and here's what an MRI is. I'll be interpreting the scan and you can discuss any questions with me."

Farley said the idea is not to usurp the role of the treating physician, but to let patients know that someone who has been well trained to do this is handling the exam.

Though he's waiting for the ACR to complete analysis of the campaign before he makes up his mind about its effectiveness, encouraging face time with patients is something Dr. Nick Bryan said he agrees with.

"Any successful endeavor to have patients recognize radiologists as important healthcare givers [means] radiologists need to have more interaction with patients," said Bryan, who is radiology department chair for the University of Pennsylvania Healthcare System.

And it can't hurt on the Hill, either. Though the ad campaign is not tied to any particular piece of legislation, Congress is considering mandatory accreditation for Medicare reimbursement for advanced modalities.

Framing the issue as a problem of "utilization" rather than reimbursement, the ACR wants the government to limit MR, PET, and CT scan reimbursement to those exams done by an accredited imaging physician.

Misperceptions about the value of radiologists put the ACR at a disadvantage in its advocacy battle, according to Cynthia Moran, the organization's director of government relations and economic policy.

"[The campaign] is meant to be instructive and I think it cannot hurt and can do nothing but help us in our Washington adventures," she said.

View the ACR's "What your patients are saying about you" video here.