Disquiet over imminent healthcare reform offered one device manufacturer an opportunity to establish itself and its sales force as valued consultants for negotiating change. Here’s a story about stepping up to lead your customers through hard times.

Healthcare costs are indisputably escalating, by the astounding rate of about 40 percent in the last decade. In 2009, the gross domestic product specific to healthcare was estimated at $2.5 trillion or 17.6 percent. The United States spends two times as much for healthcare as other developed countries, but rates only 37th in overall quality. Unfortunately, continued escalation of these costs could further burden the U.S. economy as businesses seek to remain competitive in a global market.

The desire to rein in these escalating costs and enhance the quality of our healthcare has made healthcare legislation a keystone issue over the last several years. As legislation and regulation have changed the healthcare industry, Toshiba America Medical Systems, sought to take the lead in offering customers educational opportunities to help them understand and succeed in this new environment.

IDENTIFYING A NEED

Toshiba provides imaging systems and support to hospitals, imaging centers and other healthcare providers. The company’s CT, MRI, X-ray and ultrasound systems are used around the world to diagnose and treat patients for everything from a degenerating disk to a cardiac malformation.

In today’s market, medical imaging companies must be able to show how imaging systems help improve quality of care, reduce costs, and enhance patient outcomes. To provide the best solutions possible, the company has taken a time-tested philosophy (one which has helped it achieve high customer-satisfaction ratings) and moved from just providing technology solutions and support to helping customers better understand the healthcare landscape. We work to listen to our customers and then develop what they need.

A few years ago, we established a healthcare economics team to review new legislation and determine potential impacts to the company and healthcare providers. In 2010, when healthcare reform efforts resulted in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, customers began asking, “What does this mean to me?” It quickly became apparent that Toshiba could play a role in helping healthcare providers answer this question.

REACHING OUT TO KEY AUDIENCES

Our efforts to educate customers came about as a natural progression, first focusing on the sales team to equip them to fill a role as consultants. Next, we reached out directly to customers, group purchasing organizations, and industry associations. Since Toshiba was already tracking healthcare legislation changes and analyzing their potential impact on the company and by extension its customers, it was a relatively easy transition to begin sharing this information.
To empower the sales team to be able to answer customer questions and explain how a vendor could partner with them to create an individualized solution, we created an internal newsletter in a question and answer format, breaking down complicated legislation into easy-to-understand concepts. This effort was complemented by internal videos using visual aids and assessment activities, to measure comprehension. These tools went beyond explaining legislation to highlight potential impacts.

Once the sales team was trained, Toshiba began reaching out directly to customers. We created question-and-answer sheets directed to customers, explaining what was in store, how it would affect them, and how Toshiba could help. Each sheet focused on one concept at a time. For example, one sheet covered Accountable Care Organizations, the new healthcare delivery model focused on improving patient care and reducing costs. In addition to these sheets, we launched a series of online videos called Conversational Healthcare (which we continue to expand with new episodes as new topics arise).

While explaining a concept is good, showing it in action is even better. The next step of the outreach came about when we launched a campaign on Episode of Care (EOC), another new healthcare program also designed to lower costs and enhance the quality of patient care. We partnered with Kaleida Health Stroke Center at Millard Fillmore Gates Circle Hospital in Buffalo, NY, which has successfully used company CT scanners to improve patient outcomes, enabling them to release more patients directly home rather than to another healthcare facility while also reducing costs.

The new EOC program spotlighted the Millard Fillmore story when the campaign was launched at the industry’s largest annual trade show, RSNA (Radiological Society of North America). The campaign’s goals were to educate show attendees about EOC, explain what healthcare providers needed to do to succeed in the new healthcare environment, and showcase how our technology can help providers continuously enhance patient care, reduce their costs, and improve patient outcomes. Traditional advertisements and press releases, along with email marketing campaigns, piqued interest and enticed show attendees into the on-site EOC theater—running four presentations daily explaining how medical imaging fits into the future of healthcare. This area also included interactive displays that explained how leading healthcare organizations successfully use an EOC model. Additionally, we created brochures using the story of Millard Fillmore’s success to explain the concept of EOC. The overall effect was a 59 percent year-on-year increase in traffic to Toshiba’s booth—in a year in which show attendance only increased by seven percent.

The excitement and attention generated at the RSNA show brought our educational efforts to the attention of an even larger audience, and the materials began to circulate widely throughout the industry. In fact, a major competitor reported using the Conversational Healthcare videos to educate its own employees. Toshiba began receiving invitations to speak at meetings of respected industry associations, and those invitations continue to escalate today. Seeing that the need for information was still great, we pitched article ideas to association publications, positioning the company as a subject matter expert.

PROGRAM SUCCESS

EOC advertisements resulted in more than 400 million impressions in the two month period they ran, and the email campaign open rate exceeded the industry average by 10 percent. This innovative approach to providing customer solutions was recognized by a Silver 2011 Ex Award for the “Best Integrated Trade Show Campaign.” The company has also been named 2011 Best in KLAS, awarded on customer satisfaction ratings. And, not least, the efforts enabled the company to maintain its revenue stream in a declining market.

The success underscores our conviction that listening to customers is key to our success. It is by listening that we were able to perceive and fill the need for healthcare-reform education, and it is by continuing to listen and deliver on customer needs that Toshiba plans to succeed in this ever-changing market.



  • Catherine Wolfe

    Catherine Wolfe is Senior Director, Corporate and Strategic Communications, at Toshiba America Medical Systems, with responsibilities that include customer satisfaction and market research as well as corporate and marketing communications. She has written numerous articles and presented at a variety of conferences on customer satisfaction and marketing topics.

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