Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another problematic ad

In a post below, I talk about a recent radio ad that I felt was inappropriate. Yesterday, I heard another one. In this ad, there is discussion of a recent research finding that presents the possibility of being able to detect cancer cells in the bloodstream of patients. This is truly great stuff, in that it might someday enable doctors to know if they were successful in removing or killing all of the cancer cells in a person or might enable them to obtain earlier detection of cancer than is currently possible. The people who did this research are outstanding scientists. We all are so fortunate that they devote lifetimes of time and energy to helping humanity.

But the problem with the ad is that it gave the impression that because this discovery was made in one hospital, that hospital can offer superior cancer care to patients. As we know, even if this discovery were ready for clinical application, advances of this sort are made widely available to the world and are not held as proprietary by the discovering institution. (In this case, especially so, in that the discovery is actually part of a multi-institutional cancer research program in which results are widely shared among all participants.)

To be clear, the hospital buying the ad is a superb place to get diagnosis and treatment of cancer. What is objectionable in the ad was the decision to cite a promising research finding and to overstate its relevance to the current delivery of medical care in this hospital. This is particularly troubling in the cancer arena, where patients hunger for new treatments and cures and can easily leap to the conclusion that an experimental finding is already available to them. Perhaps some of you will view this as too fine a line of distinction, but I think we need to be careful here: All of this affects the entire medical community's credibility over time.


Anonymous said...

Since when does the medical community have any credibility? You're the only CEO that has any credibility. Kudos to you!

Anonymous said...

Whoever this hospital is has employed an ad agency who knows exactly what they are doing: preying on FEAR. And HOPE. Cancer patients will get five phone calls every time one of these ads runs -- "Oh, you have to go there, they are doing something different." It's a rotten thing to do.

They are begging for regulation of advertising. We should have it, just as it's time to regulate all of these ridiculous drug ads.

While cancer patients are particularly vulnerable because their situations may be life-threatening, the same applies to advertising for diabetics, people with arthritis, etc.

Anonymous said...

I can see where patients that have suffered with cancer may leap as you say to this perceived life raft that is being offered to them. I guess if I was in their shoes I would do the same. However healthcare professionals and patients need to take a moment of pause with this type of advertising. Whether it comes from pharmaceutical companies or hospitals themselves.

Patients need to do some homework here with the help of their primary care provider. Look at the fine print. Things that seem to good to be true typically are.

At the end of the day I do think that the medical community does have a responsibility to make sure that what ever advertising is placed in view of the pubic is not misleading.

Anonymous said...

Are you ready to lead an effort to establish voluntary best practices and standards for health care provider and payer advertising? Given that the volume of this category of advertising is going to increase as providers face pressure to optimize pay mix and utilization, isn't it time for some guidelines?

Alternatively, maybe your CIO needs to start a new weekly wall of shame category in his blog for FUD-based provider advertising?

On a positive note, most of the creative, copy writing, production and media buying professionals I've met would welcome intelligent guidelines for ethical health care provider advertising because the message is often complex and easy to unintentionally misrepresent.

Anonymous said...

I think that all hospital and physician advertising should cease now! The adds are misleading, often false, and are just old time PR practices. Many CEO don't quite understand that we are moving forward. Hospitals should be treated like schools. No self promotion permitted.

Anonymous said...

I have never liked drug advertising or hospital advertising. It leaves me with the uneasy feeling that I should be asking my doctor about "the purple pill".

Richard Wittrup said...

We remain ambivalent about the role of competition in the economy of health care.

If (as I predict) such competition is finally accepted as the most practical way to get costs under control, there will need to be rules of the game, including what is acceptable advertising. A certain amount of hyperbole and exaggeration is inevitable, but some limits are in order.

Richard Wittrup

Unknown said...

As a 20 plus year healthcare marketing veteran and now a consultant, I am totally disgusted with the state of our profession. We do not employ strategic marketers as much as we employ English majors. While marketing is so much more than advertising, marketing = advertising is about all that 90% of hospitals know. And since advertising is something tangible, it becomes the go-to form of marketing as if to show that marketing is being productive in some way. My whole consulting career has been about showing a better way. I would be more than happy to sit down with a strategic group of people and see what we can do about it. And there are thousands of agencies out there just playing off of this with hospitals.

Anthony Cirillo, FACHE

e-Patient Dave said...

What an interesting idea - creating an Ethical Marketing Standards document!

In the absence of such a thing, advertising professionals (and hospital executives) are left to their own to notice that this isn't just any old business. (After all, Xerox brags about Xerox PARC, and universities constantly brag that they're the place where XYZ was invented.)

Methinks an approach of "We shouldn't have to tell them" could beneficially be changed to "Here's what we mean." It could start with "The business of healthcare is not like other industries. Choice of provider can lead to life-and-death consquences of far greater moral and ethical importance than short-term economic gain. For this reason, it's imperative that healthcare marketers adhere to these principles, which are designed to support patient/customers in having the clearest possible information as they enter a healthcare episode."