Market Research Provides Critical Information to Cancer Centers

November 1, 1995

MARINA DEL REY, Calif-In today's health care environment, the providers of cancer care must determine not only how to market their services but also whom to market them to, Patti A. Jamieson, MSSW, MBA, said at the annual Conference of the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC).

MARINA DEL REY, Calif-In today's health care environment, theproviders of cancer care must determine not only how to markettheir services but also whom to market them to, Patti A. Jamieson,MSSW, MBA, said at the annual Conference of the Association ofCommunity Cancer Centers (ACCC).

In a changing market (see below), with hospitals slashing operatingcosts and capital budgets at a minimum, "how do we make sureour cancer programs get the resources they need?" asked Ms.Jamieson, a senior associate at ELM Services, Inc., an oncologyconsulting and software company in Rockville, Md.

To answer this question, Ms. Jamieson suggested that cancer carecenters must define their markets. "In the past, we've hadthe freedom to do random marketing and advertising. Now we mustcarefully decide where our dollars go," she said. In manyareas, marketing is needed "not just to increase market share,but to maintain market share."

Examples of target markets for cancer services include the generalpublic, managed care corporations and other payers, and majoremployers in the area, she said. The appropriate promotional mixwill vary, depending on the community served.

The most important variable to determine is the managed care penetrationin an area. When the market is only 10% to 15% managed care, heavymarketing directly to consumers makes sense. When penetrationis over 50%, additional methods may be needed to reach potentialpatients, she advised.

'SWOT' Teams?

This points to the fact that "you have to do market research,"Ms. Jamieson said. She suggested that cancer programs completea SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat) analysisfor each of their competitors. This will help centers look foropportunities still open in the community.

"I know this sounds very basic, but in the past, we havenot had to do this. We've been in prestigious institutions, withwell-known cancer programs. We've had an 'if we build it, theywill come' philosophy that won't work in today's environment,"she said.

Programs can use the SWOT analysis results to determine if thereis a niche that is not being served in their area, eg, a breast,prostate, or pain management center. However, in many large metropolitanareas, all niches have been filled, and other methods to differentiateprograms must be found.

To assess the community's perceptions of needed cancer services,a complete market evaluation should be performed, Ms. Jamiesonsaid. "Does the community want the latest and greatest, orsimply good, standard cancer care?" she asked.

Patient satisfaction surveys are an important element in marketevaluation. In Ms. Jamieson's opinion, cancer programs shouldbe utilizing the information from these surveys in a continuousquality improvement process-making changes when needed.

Other techniques used in market evaluation include direct mailor telephone surveys and focus groups. Direct mail surveys areespecially useful when evaluating niche services. Ms. Jamiesonhas coordinated surveys of women who have used breast cancer treatmentservices, and, to obtain a different perspective, those who haveused only screening services, such as mammography, were also questioned.

Focus groups are "an old marketing tool that is being revived,and an excellent way to get information from consumers,"Ms. Jamieson noted. They help to determine the general public'sawareness and opinions about existing or proposed services.

She said there is often a great deal of useful market informationwithin an organization that is not being utilized. In her experience,"when a multidisciplinary team (including those not involvedin cancer treatment) comes together to discuss an issue, thingsthat we've never considered are brought up."

Marketing programs are being measured for cost effectiveness asnever before, she said, and many administrators are being heldaccountable for advertising dollars. For example, if $100,000is spent on a program, the administrators must be able to showwhat kind of revenue that program brought into the cancer center.Or even more specific, they may be asked, "Can you show methe names of 50 patients who sought services here because of thatmarketing program?"

Know Your Audience

The results obtained in market research can be used to createadvertisements or promotions that will have the greatest impacton the target audience. For example, Ms. Jamieson noted, in manymarkets, consumers are extremely educated about cancer care, socancer centers need to calculate their survival statistics andknow their rankings relative to national standards.

During her work in Southern California, Ms. Jamieson found thatprograms aimed at cancer prevention, education, and early detectionwere very well received, but she cautioned that in some minoritycommunities, these programs may not be successful tools for attractingpotential patients.

In a managed care environment, cancer centers will have to developmarketing programs that specifically target health plan enrolleesand work to keep them satisfied, so they continue to choose thefacility.

Managed care companies and other payers will probably want tobe shown that the prevention, education, and screening programsprovided for them lead to the diagnosis of their members' cancersat earlier stages, she said. These companies also want to knowthat when they enter into a contract with a center, cancer careservices "from A to Z" will be provided. In addition,they look for easy access to services for their members.

In Ms. Jamieson's opinion, "you will need to show payersthat you provide consistent, high quality care, and prove yourclaims that your program is the best relative to the competition."

Other marketing tools are wellness programs, joint marketing withcommunity organizations such as the American Cancer Society, allianceswith academic institutions, and collaborative relationships withlocal media.

Session attendees mentioned that they were already experimentingwith high-tech marketing techniques, such as on-line ads, electronicQ&A systems, on-line support groups, and Internet web pages."It's time to be innovative," Ms. Jamieson said, "tospend fewer dollars and get better success for the money."

Paradigm Shifts in Perspectives on the Treatment of Cancer

Traditional perspective/concerns

Current perspective/concerns