Media Relations: Press finds doctor on call to discuss procedure options

Dr. Ernst Bartsich, a gynecological surgeon and clinical associate professor at Weill-Cornell Medical Center, was long fed up with the fact that the rate of hysterectomy procedures - more than 600,000 annually - has remained constant since 1990 despite the availability of less invasive and expensive alternatives. He learned that data from federal government clinical studies show that although most hysterectomies are medically unnecessary, most gynecologists, regardless of age or gender, continue to perform them.

Dr. Ernst Bartsich, a gynecological surgeon and clinical associate professor at Weill-Cornell Medical Center, was long fed up with the fact that the rate of hysterectomy procedures - more than 600,000 annually - has remained constant since 1990 despite the availability of less invasive and expensive alternatives. He learned that data from federal government clinical studies show that although most hysterectomies are medically unnecessary, most gynecologists, regardless of age or gender, continue to perform them.

Strategy

Referred by one of his patients, a satisfied Roher PR client, Dr. Bartsich approached the agency about developing a program that would help encourage women to question their doctors about the necessity of hysterectomies and inform them about available alternatives.

"The alternative technologies have been there for over ten years, so I am not bringing out anything new," says Dr. Bartsich. "I am asking, 'Why are they not being used?'"

Dr. Bartsich also sought to improve the reputation of gynecological surgeons, who have been criticized heavily for the high number of hysterectomies performed each year.

"I wanted to be an advocate both for women and for my own profession," says Dr. Bartsich.

Tactics

"We pushed the story first because the statistics themselves are very compelling," says Richard Roher, president of the agency. "After that, we worked very hard to push Dr. Bartsich."

Janet Appel, VP at Roher PR and the woman who led the media relations effort, adds, "Having a doctor who was readily available made for easier pick-up. I was able to work with the press by saying he is available, and so are his patients."

Roher PR went after national and local media placements, targeting outlets focused on women under the age of 45. They opted against using celebrity spokespeople and instead tugged at heartstrings by developing story angles that focused on women who refused the hysterectomies recommended by their doctors and went on to have children.

In all pitching endeavors, Roher PR emphasized that Dr. Bartsich was funding the campaign himself - a fact that Roher says his agency was "able to use to our advantage." He explains, "The press was receptive because it was not coming from a pharma company or a hospital. [Dr. Bartsich] is really out there looking out for the health interests of women, which he feels are not being served."

Adds Roher, "We worked very hard to have every reporter meet with Dr. Bartsich personally, or at the very least, do a phone interview."

Results

Roher PR's efforts resulted in multiple media placements, including such high-profile outlets as The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post,Family Circle, and BET.

In addition to extensive media placements, Roher says, the efforts netted two "unexpected benefits." The first was increased traffic to Dr. Bartsich's website, fibroid-choice.com. The second was a sales hike for The Other Choice: A Comprehensive Guide For Women With Fibroids, a book co-written by Dr. Bartsich and his daughter Sophie.

Future

Roher PR will continue to work with Dr. Bartsich on raising awareness of the times when hysterectomies are appropriate and on encouraging women to be more proactive by asking their doctors questions. The agency also has plans underway to start targeting the lesbian community.

Roher says that, going forward, the challenge will be to develop new angles to get the press to continue to cover the issue. But, he says, "there's still a lot of press out there for us."

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PR team: Roher Public Relations (Chappaqua, NY)

Campaign: Dr. Ernst Bartsich hysterectomy education

Time frame: January to December 2003

Budget: Under $100,000

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