Our Outlook

Filter Posts

Clear Filters
« Return to List

Posted on 05.27.2014

Controversy Sparks Conversation about Hospital Advertising

A couple of months ago, an advertisement for the da Vinci Surgical System sparked quite a bit of controversy - and an interesting, ongoing conversation about the ethics and value of hospital advertising. 

To refresh your memory: The ad, which appeared as a full page in the New York Times Magazine, featured a large photograph of a physician team from the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. Below the photograph sat the headline: "We believe in da Vinci Surgery because our patients benefit." The kicker was that, in small print at the bottom of the ad, was a disclosure that explained some surgeons who appeared the ad had received compensation from da Vinci. And it was later revealed that da Vinci paid for the ad and not everyone in the photo was even a clinician.


After the ad appeared, Paul Levy, the former CEO of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and publisher of the popular "Not Running a Hospital" blog wrote a scathing post titled, "Time to fire somebody," that questioned the ethics of a public, nonprofit hospital promoting a commercial product - particularly given the controversy surrounding the effectiveness of the surgical system. The post led to similar stories, including this piece by NPR that quotes Levy.

More recently, Hospitals & Health Networks contributor David Ollier Weber penned a column that, through the lens of the da Vinci ad controversy, asks whether hospitals advertising to the general public is in good taste, or even truly effective.

Worth a read, the article discusses the history of hospital advertising – formerly frowned upon by the American Hospital Association - and gives a snapshot of some of the current sentiment toward the practice, including questions about whether it's "in good taste."

Here's the quote that closes the article, from a Minneapolis-based health care marketing consultant, taking aim specifically at mass advertising:

"In fact, the business case for hospital advertising - especially mass advertising - is extraordinarily poor. It's notoriously difficult to measure the impact of the ubiquitous 'brand campaigns' that are all about awareness and perception-building and have no freaking call to action. But the effectiveness of mass advertising from a cost-benefit perspective pales in comparison to more targeted efforts, such as search advertising, direct mail, community seminars and more. Yes, some of that is advertising, but it's the mass advertising that's getting us in trouble."

What do you think? Is "mass advertising" effective for hospitals? Are there ethical or "taste" pitfalls that must be avoided? Let us know what you think.


Erin George is a Senior Account Supervisor at Lovell Communications. You can view more of Erin’s blogs here. Connect with Erin at erin@lovell.com or @ErinLawley.

Latest Blog Post

Nonprofit health systems: What does your 990 say about you?

What does your Form 990 say about your nonprofit hospital? Read more for communications guidance on what to say — and what to do when there’s not enough spa...

Read More

News Update

Lovell Senior Account Supervisor Kristy Lucero featured in PR News’ Young Voices Series

Kristy Lucero offers advice on how to excel in a public relations career and the lessons she’s learned as a health care communicator working through COVID-19...

Read More