Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Washington Hospital wasting advertising dollars?

Speaking of healthcare marketing and advertising and the waste it represents:

This past weekend I received a glossy multi-page brochure from the Washington Hospital Center promoting their excellent cardiac surgery outcomes statistics. This mailing had a machine-generated mailing label, presumably sent to a list of physicians in my home town and likely other geographic areas outside Washington, D.C. This is not the first time I've received such glossy mailings from this organization.

I offer genuine compliments on their excellence in cardiac surgery. Their excellence in invasive cardiology is known to me from clinical IT-related site visits there a number of years ago. However...

Being that I'm living in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia, appx. 150 miles from D.C. and surrounded by nearby, excellent cardiac surgery centers (University of Pennsylvania, Jefferson, Temple University, Drexel University/Hahnemann, Christiana Care, to name just a few locals), and that patients are unlikely to travel to Washington, D.C., far from family and friends for heart surgery, I find this marketing brochure wasteful.

Also considering that I have not practiced medicine for a number of years after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in Medical Informatics and holding management positions in that field, this makes the mailing even more questionable. It's not as if such information is unavailable as to who might be likely to refer patients, and who might not.

Healthcare disparities being a professional interest, I also can imagine that there are disadvantaged children and adults with heart disease in the proximity of Washington Hospital Center. How many of these patients could have been served with the money spent for composing, printing and mailing these glossy brochures?

Finally, it's ironic that a senior executive at Washington Hospital Center is someone I worked with in the past at another large healthcare system. This person made a project I led, the development of an information system for cardiac outcomes in invasive cardiology and cardiac surgery, a nightmare.

In part due to the fact that he had been overseeing the I.S. department that had been struggling for several years to bring up a failed commercial system, and in part due to the fact that he did not play well with the Sr. VP for Medical Affairs (who happened to be the person who hired me to rectify the cardiology IT problems), the political dysfunction that resulted made the system's success far more difficult to achieve than it should have been.

Success was achieved anyway, despite the executive's politics, and recognition for IT excellence by national cardiology figures who came to inspect the facility was in fact obtained. The facility saved almost $1 million in the system's first year of operation as well, due to the improved operations and materials procurement the new computer system facilitated. However, I left this organization shortly afterward in large part due to these political dysfunction issues.

It's ironic that I now receive costly brochures touting excellent outcomes in cardiology from another institution with the same executive in a leadership role.

Being an optimist, the least I can say is that I'm glad this executive may have learned something about "the value of the data" from Medical Informatics, although apparently not much about thrift.

-- SS

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