Facebook Twitter



Dr. W. Andrew Lyle is a soft-spoken man who doesn't mince words. Especially when he's talking about his pet project - the Eye Institute of Utah.

"If you have a product that's good, why not tout it," is the philosophy of the Salt Lake ophthalmologist turned savvy marketing executive.Lyle's spacious, free-standing, Medicare-certified ambulatory surgical facility - tagged the "Pink Palace" - is touted in newsletters, on television and in three column newspaper ads that tell readers to "Look at What 10,000 People (satisfied cataract patients) Are Saying."

The ads make more conservative physicians cringe.

But Lyle unabashedly defends his aggressive advertising techniques and the two marketing executives he's hired to implement them.

Marketing, he says, has been driven by market forces - good old Yankee competition - and his faith in his product.

"You have a certain pool of patients who need surgery. There is competition for them. Patients want the best result, so they want to go to someone who is experienced," he said. "A person who does 100 cataracts a year can never get the same surgical results as someone who does 500 or 1,000 a year."

According to a slick brochure hyping the institute, Lyle has performed over 10,000 cataract surgeries.

It was 16 years ago, after completing a residency in ophthalmology at the University of Utah Medical Center, that the retina and cataract specialist ignited a marketing campaign.

Through educational seminars on radial keratotomy and free cataract and glaucoma screenings, Lyle introduced himself to his public.

Direct mail followed. He once spent $45,000 to mail a newsletter to senior citizens throughout the area. "It brought in just enough surgery to cover the cost of the mailing," he said. "But it enhanced our reputation because people became aware of us."

Over the past few years, internal marketing techniques have taken precedent over external ones. The patient who enters the palace is the primary focus of Lyle and his staff of 40 or more.

One glance at the inviting blaze in the fireplace, soft leather chairs, marble panels, juice and food in every cranny, and patients are eager to check in - few questions asked.

It's easy to forget the real reason you're in the institute; it bears little resemblance to any other facility where cataracts are removed and corneas implanted.

Lyle has spared no expense to keep his patients happy, including transporting them by van or airplane to the institute from throughout the Mountain West. He has satellite clinics in Casper and Rock Springs, Wyo.; St. George and Idaho Falls.

Each patient, upon admittance to the Salt Lake-based institute, is photographed "so if we have a waiting room full of people, we don't have to call out their name as if they were in a barn." Following surgery, each leaves with a video tape of his/her own operation - which, incidentally, has been watched by relatives on closed-circuit television.

In every waiting room is a refrigerator full of juice. Coffee, hot chocolate and cookies are also within reach. So is a telephone for each patient's use.

Patients can have lunch after the operation. Lyle has hired a cook, who daily provides a salad bar, two or three types of soup and sandwiches for institute guests.

What, no jacuzzi? The institute does have a weight-lifting room. But it's for staff use only.

The Oklahoma-born physician admits he has given new meaning to the word "marketing."

"But I am still the same person medically that I have always been. The fact that I am doing some advertising doesn't change that. The very worst thing that could happen is to become greedy and do surgery on people who don't need it."

Lyle isn't without critics, who believe he's gone too far to promote himself and his institute. "Watch what they do a year after I do, not what they say," is his response.