Thursday, October 07, 2010

So how would this hospital billboard cut costs, benefit patients or improve their quality of care?

Can Anyone Tell Me How This Hospital Billboard Benefits Patients?
I have problems with this billboard, which I saw on Regent Street. Even if you accept the traditional market justification of medical advertising, that it provides consumers the information they need to make informed medical choices, it's of no help here. This is not a product ad. It's not telling consumers about the efficacy, benefits and risks of a new drug. Nor does it provide any factual information about Meriter Hospital. It's not as if it's comparing surgical mortality rates for Madison's hospitals and saying, "We're number one!"

No, this isn't a product ad. It's a branding message, designed to boost brand recognition and loyalty by promoting warm, fuzzy feelings about the brand, so that when you have to make a choice of hospital or health insurance plan you'll choose the brand or plan associated with it -- all in the complete absence of any actual concrete information.

I don't mean to pick on Meriter. All the healthcare providers run advertising like this, advertising that tells you less about the provider than about its ad agency and its brand advertising strategy. This one seems to be going for cutesy, contemporary and caring. Funny how it never mentions the word "health." Has that become too political? "Better" seems a rather tepid substitute, if you ask me.

Market advocates of competition in healthcare typically defend medical advertising by saying that's how medical consumers find out about new medical products and services -- information that might in some cases be life-saving. But they never talk about gimmicky content-free ads like this. Nor do they talk about the anti-competitive nature of brand advertising in general, which is less about promoting competition than locking out new competitors by making it more expensive for them to enter a given market. They don't explain how advertising like this does anything but drive up costs.

Why am I not surprised?

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