Is Healthcare Marketing a Grotesque Business or Ethical Imperative?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Animated 3D stick figure looking at the pros and cons trying to decideRecently we found a hot potato in our email.

A new subscriber to our newsletter was clearly unhappy with us, and they let us know—in no uncertain terms—of their disapproval of healthcare marketing and advertising.

The reader put forward a number of issues, including:

“Bringing in more patients does not equate with higher quality of service or healthier patients. It is time for healthcare services to get back into the business of providing care and out of this grotesque marketing business.”

They also wrote:

“Healthcare costs in the USA are among the world's highest with the poorest results because of this type of high priced non-health related services such as marketing and concierge services.

“My question to you is if hospitals and doctors used their time, expertise, resources and energy to ensure that their patients received the best care in a safe, humane and caring manner, wouldn't patients naturally choose their services instead of buying into some big ad campaign?”

Nobody likes to hear “unhappy” comments, but they are often the source of insight and awareness. This reader provided a number of thoughtful comments, and we responded directly and promptly.

We wanted our reader to know that we do publish articles about many topics beyond attracting patients. Many articles on this site and our website——speak directly about providing patient satisfaction. Quality of care is never a trade-off for any marketing gain.

Hospital or provider service selection does not happen spontaneously, and marketing and advertising are not an ethical sore spot. It is important to understand that healing is an art, medicine is a profession, but healthcare is a business. In a previous article:

“ ‘Doctors are getting business training because there is more equipment, personnel issues and marketing that is required to run a practice than ever before,’ said Amelia Pare, president of the Allegheny County Medical Society and a McMurray plastic surgeon. ‘And if you are an employed physician [at a hospital] you must show value for your continued employment.’ ”

Would patients naturally choose “the best care in a safe, humane and caring” service? There must be a means to communicate about good care, positive outcomes, caring service and patient satisfaction.  Our blog, articles and newsletter content begin with the concept that the purpose of healthcare marketing and advertising is to inform and educate the public.

Is it realistic to think patients or prospective patients can make an informed decision without a flow of pertinent information? The Internet in particular has empowered information-hungry healthcare consumers who want to be more informed and proactive about their health and healthcare decisions.

In fact, it would be unethical to not inform the patient-consumer.

And in regard to prevention and healthy living, one of our podcast interviews discussed Wellness Mindset: Service Line Marketing to Keep Patients Out of the Hospital. Eula McKinney of UCSF Medical Center said:

“Vertical integration” is the healthcare industry term that includes assuring excellence in patient service across the full continuum of clinical care. And—with payments increasingly tied to prevention—that spectrum begins with wellness marketing strategies that help keep patients out of the hospital.”

We would like to hear from other readers on this. Some questions to prime the pump:

  • Is healthcare marketing and advertising inherently unethical, inappropriate or wasteful?
  • Are patients/prospective patients better informed and educated by way of marketing messages?
  • Does marketing/advertising create unrealistic or unachievable expectations with the public?
  • Is healthcare marketing a waste of money and resources for hospitals and medical practices?

Let's talk about this. Is healthcare marketing a grotesque business or ethical imperative. Your comments (or hot potatoes) are welcome.

 Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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