Academic Medical Center Advertising: Pump Up the Volume

January 6, 2012
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More academic medical centers are turning to national advertising, with many seeking to boost admissions of well-insured (or simply wealthy) patients from outside their local catchment areas. It’s hard to say whether such initiatives will generate an attractive return on investment for the institutions, but it does tell you something about the state of the market that these initiatives are being pushed now, when hospitals are worried about squeezes from Medicare and from private payers pursuing capitation.

More academic medical centers are turning to national advertising, with many seeking to boost admissions of well-insured (or simply wealthy) patients from outside their local catchment areas. It’s hard to say whether such initiatives will generate an attractive return on investment for the institutions, but it does tell you something about the state of the market that these initiatives are being pushed now, when hospitals are worried about squeezes from Medicare and from private payers pursuing capitation.

NPR covers the topic under the misleading headline In Tight Times, Medical Schools Market Themselves, describing initiatives by Mayo Clinic, Mount Sinai, New York Presbyterian and Vanderbilt. Many of the advertisers are a bit cagey or even misleading about why they’re investing in advertising. The funniest quote is from Vanderbilt’s chief marketing officer who declares:

“We think of it almost as a service to the public, to get the word out.”

Almost, but not quite. As marketer John English puts it,

“There are ancillary benefits to an effective national or regional campaign. That said, during a time in health care where dollars are precious, I don’t believe those would be the key reasons for a national campaign. I think the key reason is to attract more patients.”

I really have nothing against academic medical centers promoting themselves. I’ll be really excited when they start to compete not just on reputation and high-tech wizardy but on outcomes and value as well.


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