The business case
The hospital advertising critics always seem to forget about the business side. Aside from staying true to their mission, hospitals need to advertise to maintain or enhance revenue flow. Even non-profit hospitals need to market to insured patients and promote high-grossing service lines so that they are able to continue to care for the uninsured.
And while some larger health systems spend what seems like large amounts of money on advertising, on average, the hospital marketing budget accounts for a tiny portion of the overall organizational budget.
"While we do spend money on marketing and advertising, far less than a penny of every dollar of our expenses goes to that and we try to be prudent in those expenses," Bob Porter, chief strategy officer for the non-profit SSM Healthcare-St. Louis said. "For us, healthcare is a social good, not a commodity."
Listening to the critics
Another hospital advertising criticism that came out this month was written by a healthcare insider, Upstate University Hospital CEO, John McCabe. On his blog he lists services that far-away hospitals are promoting in his market and implies that this is unethical because his hospital provides the same services, with the same high-quality care closer to home. While this is self-serving, (hey, it's his blog) he goes on to make a few thought-provoking points.
McCabe posits that the current hospital advertising environment doesn't jibe with the healthcare reform goal of providing more and better care at less expense.
"We seem to be in a cycle that can't be broken," he says. "Perhaps it is a good time as all of us struggle, and all of us work to implement healthcare reform, that we rethink where the precious resources we have to improve patient care are best spent."
In the years to come, hospital marketers will be tasked with making advertising more meaningful, more results-driven, and more in-step with what the public demands. The sooner your organization—and the industry as a whole—figures out how to do this, the better off we'll be.