Respectful Insolence

Where does Georgetown get the money?

Last week, upon arriving back at my office after a day in clinic, I noticed an odd box sitting in my “in” box. I didn’t recall having ordered anything recently, and my first thought was that an order for the laboratory had somehow been delivered to my office instead of my lab by mistake. It’s uncommon, but it occasionally happens. Curiosity piqued, I picked up the box. It was small, only a few inches high, and lighter than I had expected. I couldn’t hear any swishing that might indicated a powdered reagent in a bottle in the box. Moreover, upon closer inspection, I noticed that the box had no markings. So I opened it, to find this:

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What on earth? Why would Georgetown University be sending me a combination alarm clock and thermometer? Was it a peace offering for forcing woo down the throats of its medical students in its mandatory curriculum?

Not very likely, I’ll warrant.

Then I noticed a flier included in the box. Here’s what it said:

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An ad touting the addition of a second CyberKnife radiosurgery system? Georgetown spent all this money to mail this clock to me for that? How many other cancer doctors along the East Coast were they sending these to? It didn’t take long for me to find out that many of the physicians at our cancer center had received the same package as I had. Given that we are located over 200 miles away from Georgetown, it made me wonder exactly why on earth Georgetown would cast its net so widely. Four years ago, when Georgetown was the only center on the East Coast with the CyberKnife, I might have been able to understand. Might have. But it’s not as though there aren’t CyberKnife facilities much closer to us than Washington now. Heck, there’s one a mere 40 miles or so away.

What is Georgetown playing at? It seems like a long run for a short slide, if you know what I mean, given that the vast majority of patients referred for CyberKnife treatment in my area would be referred to the nearer center, not the one that’s over 200 miles away.

I can understand where the money comes from when pharmaceutical companies offer up outrageous swag to try to sway physicians, but where does a private medical school like Georgetown, which was in serious financial difficulty a few years back and still lost over $5 million last year, come up with the cash.

I realize the CyberKnife is a very expensive piece of machinery, but will sending this stuff out to physicians who are very unlikely ever to refer a single patient to Georgetown really help the bottom line?

Comments

  1. #1 qetzal
    September 19, 2007

    I realize the CyberKnife is a very expensive piece of machinery, but will sending this stuff out to physicians who are very unlikely ever to refer a single patient to Georgetown really help the bottom line?

    I don’t know, but by sending one to you, they’ve reached everyone who reads your blog! ;-)

    Maybe we’ll see a new trend in DTC ads.

    “Doc, my leg was itchy the other night. I think I might need some o’ that Requip. Plus, I heard about this new CyberKnife thingy. Could that work for me?”

  2. #2 Warren
    September 19, 2007

    I’m betting the money is coming from Accuray, the manufacturers of the CyberKnife system, in one form or another.

    It wouldn’t surprise me much to learn that they’d cut some kind of deal; either offering to house the system provided free publicity materials, or accepting the installation at a reduced-from-retail rate with the understanding that Georgetown/MedStar would foot the bill for PR.

  3. #3 kristina
    September 19, 2007

    If the CyberKnife shows up on Gizmodo, you’ll know they are trying to generate buzz! (I guess that pun may have been intended.)

  4. #4 Infophile
    September 19, 2007

    Actually, I’d guess that business decisions like this are precisely the reason they had financial difficulties back then, and likely will in the future.

  5. #5 Matlatzinca
    September 19, 2007

    Interesting marketing strategy. My first reaction on seeing the freebie clock was to remember the Trojan Horse story, but then of course it was hard to think of how they could use the device to figure out your referral pattern or other valuable information. I can see now (as mentioned by qetzal) that it was a different form of Trojan Horse – viral marketing!

  6. #6 potentilla
    September 19, 2007

    You’re on a marketing contacts database. Marketing people are often not very clever. More reasonably, the cost of cleaning such databases (ie the time needed to do the research to decide who to delete) will frequently outweigh the marginal cost of sending the extra stuff.

  7. #7 BladeDoc
    September 19, 2007

    qetzal — they’re way ahead of you. They’ve been DTC’ing cyberknife on the AM radio here in Savannah for at least 6 months now. The key lines are “Isn’t that just for brain cancer” “No dear it is used for” yadda yadda, yadda.

  8. #8 qetzal
    September 19, 2007

    I think Warren’s right – this isn’t really marketing from Georgetown, it’s marketing from the CyberKnife folks (even if they’re underwriting it indirectly). It’s not an attempt to attract patients to Georgetown from 200 miles away. It’s an attempt to get other hospitals to buy a CyberKnife. (Keeping up with the Georgetowns, so to speak.)

    If so, it may actually be fairly clever, as marketing ploys go.

  9. #9 NoAstronomer
    September 19, 2007

    Interesting. My first reaction on reading the article was:

    You got an unmarked unexpected package and you opened it!?

    Maybe I’m overreacting here but in my house anything meeting those criteria goes straight in the trash. And I don’t even annoy people on my blog.

  10. #10 MattXIV
    September 19, 2007

    My first guess would be that they bought a marketing list and decided it would be cheaper and easier to just send to the whole list rather than try to figure out who else has a CyberKnife and pare the list down based on that. I’d guess that referals for it are a good revenue source for them if they had enough demand that they decided to buy a second one. The clock looks like they may also be using it to bolster the hospital and university brands as well by emphasizing that they’re early adopters of new technology – a lot of places brag about their EMRs for similar reasons.

    While I don’t think a tie-in with Accuray would be particularly unexpected, the ad itself doesn’t dwell on the device itself enough for me to think they had a hand in it. If I were footing the bill, I’d at least want my company name in the ad text.

  11. #11 llewelly
    September 19, 2007

    You got an unmarked unexpected package and you opened it!?

    And he was promptly infected by a marketing virus, a contagion which he is now exposing his humble readers to!

  12. #12 George
    September 19, 2007

    In Chinese culture it is bad luck to give someone a clock, as the phrase “give clock” sounds like “send to their death.”

    And then I see the words “Cyber knife” and pictures of patients on operating tables.

    I’m just saying.

  13. #13 mark
    September 20, 2007

    n Chinese culture it is bad luck to give someone a clock, as the phrase “give clock” sounds like “send to their death.”

    Is that where “Are You Being Served” came up with the idea of Mr. Granger worried he would be presented with a clock at his anniversary dinner, when he wanted to continue working?
    I’ve heard the CyberKnife commercials–er,–acknowledgments on Public Radio, but I forget if they were for Georgetown or some Baltimore hospital.

  14. #14 Mary G
    September 20, 2007

    I live about 50 miles from DC, and I hear Georgetown CyberKnife commercials on the radio all the time.

  15. #15 BILL
    September 21, 2007

    HEY GET THE FACTS RIGHT PRES JACK SAID THE MED CENTER LOST 5.4 MILLION NOT 55 MILLION AND MST OF THAT IS IN THE SPONSORED PROGRAM REASEARCH ARM WHICH BRINGS IN LOTS OF GRANTS AND THE ADD IS PROBABLY NOT THE MED CENTER OF THE MED SCHOOL BUT FROM THE HOSPITAL IE MEDSTAR AND THAT IS MAKING MONEY REMEMBER THAT THE UNIVERSITY SOLD OFF THE HOSPITAL AND ALL CLINICAL OPERATIONS SOOOO MIGHT WANNA MODIFY YOUR POST A LITTLE THE FACTS WATSON THE FACTS. GOHOYAS

  16. #16 BILL
    September 21, 2007

    OOPS I MADE A MISTAKE AND ADMIT IT YOU DID SAY OVER FIVE MILLION OK BUT REMEMBER WITH THE HOSPITAL BEFORE MEDSTAR THE MED CENTER WAS LOSING 50 TO SIXTY MILLION a year THATS A YEAR OK SO PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE PLEASE THANKS FOR LISTENING AND MY APOLOGIES FOR THE MISREAD GO HOYAS

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