Sunday, May 22, 2005

Detroit Hospitals' Advertising War

Although pharmaceutical companies have been rightly criticized for pushing marketing rather than science, they are not the only health care organizations that may do so.
The Detroit News reports on an advertising war being waged by area hospitals. What's notable is how some hospitals, as the paper put it, "say hawking hospital services is no different than selling cola or a car." (The quote is of the article, but was not attributed to a particular person by the reporter.)
In particular, Beaumont Hospital has pursued an advertising campaign to get patients to pick a Beaumont doctor. Its web-site has a pop-up that flashes, "Are you at risk for a heart attack? Do you have a Beaumont doctor?"
Beaumont Director of Marketing and Public Affairs Michael Killian defended the campaign, first noting that patients still need to check out their doctors themselves, "Patients ought to ask every question they can, probe into everything that worries them." But he justified the "foreboding" advertising by saying that connecting with patients emotionally is necessary to get them to seek needed care, "People don't make decisions based on fact. They make decisions based on feeling. If you don't connect with somebody emotionally, you don't connect."
Emotional appeals are unlikely to create better informed patients. Cynically advocating decision making based on emotions may bring in more money, but is unlikely to inspire better decision making.
As I stated in my comment below, physicians need to become watchdogs with loud barks and sharp teeth who will protect patients against all kinds of exploitation by all kinds of powerful health care organizations.

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