We have all become accustomed to ads by pharmaceutical companies in which they try to convince us that we are at risk for one or another disease and therefore should ask our doctors about their medications. I think a lot of us find those ads distasteful, and many of us believe that they result in unnecessary expenditures on health care.
Well, today, for the first time, I heard a radio ad for a hospital that seemed to me to fit in the same category. It was an ad for a certain vascular center, and it suggested that leg cramps, among other things, could be a sign of peripheral arterial disease. The purpose, pretty clearly, was to get listeners to wonder if this and the other symptoms mentioned might be serious enough to warrant a diagnostic visit to this particular vascular center.
As you know, I am not a doctor, much less a vascular specialist of any sort, but I am guessing that the incidence of peripheral arterial disease among the general population with muscle cramps has to be very, very small. It would be one thing to explicitly target the ad to those at greater-than-average risk of vascular disease (e.g., those with diabetes, smokers, high blood pressure, heart disease, or high cholesterol), but this was a general audience ad. I certainly believe that some percentage of people with PAD who should be getting treatment are not getting treatment, but this ad felt to me (and my accompanying car passenger) to be designed to produce fear and/or anxiety beyond a legitimately targeted audience.
As I have mentioned below, many of us in the hospital world advertise our services. Those ads usually talk about our capabilities, our doctors, access or the like. This is the first time I can remember an ad that seems intent on actually stimulating the demand for specific disease-related medical services among the general population. I don't think this is good for us to do. Insurance companies, government, and employers are beseeching us to control health care costs, especially through a reduction in unnecessary utilization of services. They say that we are insensitive to those cost factors, and we give them support for this position if we advertise our services in the manner I heard today on the radio.
Hearing this ad has made me more sensitive to this issue, and I plan to ask our marketing folks to review all of our ads to make sure we have not gone down a similar path. I do not think we have, but I'll let you know in a later post if we find some.