Given Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's reputation for high-quality cancer care and research, it might not seem necessary for the hospital to market itself to attract patients. Yet the hospital spent $3.2 million last year promoting its expertise, and it will pay out a similar amount this year.
MSKCC isn't alone. Besides other city hospitals like Montefiore and NYU Medical Center the Cancer Institute of New Jersey and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System have launched aggressive marketing campaigns to bring in patients for cancer treatment, a lucrative field. North Shore-LIJ has applied to become a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center; MSKCC and the Cancer Institute, located in New Brunswick, are two of just five institutions in the tristate area to have the coveted designation.
At a time when many hospitals are struggling financially, cancer care is one of the few economic bright spots. More patients than ever are being treated for the disease, and they are living longer, often returning to hospitals for repeat rounds of expensive therapies. Perhaps most important, insurance reimbursements for cancer care are much more generous than those for treatment of many other conditions.
"This is a turbulent marketplace, and it's about profitability," Comments Jeffrey Kraut, senior vice president for strategic planning at North Shore-LIJ.
At North Shore-LIJ, cancer patients account for between 6% and 8% of total inpatient volume. But they represent 11% to 15% of total profits a range expected to rise to 12% to 18% by the end of the decade, says Mr. Kraut.
To compete for such lucrative business, many hospitals in the city and nearby suburbs have acquired high-priced diagnostic and treatment technology and hired doctors with advanced training. They are emphasizing to prospective patients the convenience of being treated locally, and adding amenities that make their care more comfortable.
In the city, the leading teaching hospitals are all emphasizing their cancer expertise. Downtown at Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, the outpatient cancer care facility on West 15th Street is a financial winner for the system, which is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy.
"We have a very successful program," says director Donna Park. "It makes a very positive contribution to the bottom line."
The Saint Vincent center has focused on recruiting top cancer specialists, Ms. Park says. In addition, the facility learned through surveying patients that a little TLC goes a long way. As a result, the hospital has equipped its treatment rooms with amenities such as Wi-Fi access and free movies, and plays up the convenience of its Chelsea location. "People tell us they can't imagine getting their care anywhere else," says Ms. Park.