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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 2/19/24

February 19, 2024 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments

For the past 20 years or so, I’ve volunteered to work on Super Bowl Sunday so that my colleagues who are die-hard football fans or longstanding party hosts can do their thing. If I’m working in a low-acuity emergency department or in an urgent care, the day is usually slow, although more patients present as soon as the game ends. Back when I was doing my training, I spent one Super Bowl Sunday covering a busy Labor and Delivery unit. It was eerily slow until the end of the half time show, and then things became wild as women headed in after realizing that sheer will power wasn’t going to keep their babies from arriving. Sometimes it’s slow enough to catch at least some of the commercials, but usually I end up reading after the fact about which ones caused the most conversation.

This year, I was surprised to see how many people were talking about healthcare-related commercials. Although most of them were local or regional, at least one ran nationally and received plenty of coverage. Patient advocacy organization Power to the Patients aired a public service announcement featuring rapper Jelly Roll, country performer Lainey Wilson, and singer-songwriter Valerie June. It called for healthcare price transparency and specifically called upon the US Congress to pass laws to support it. Points made during the ad include that 100 million people in the US are “drowning in medical debt” and that the greed of hospitals and insurers is “destroying the American dream.” Reports indicated that the campaign also had planes flying banners through the skies above Las Vegas.

Other organizations making a Super Bowl spend included:

  • Connecticut’s Hartford HealthCare and Yale New Haven Health with competing ads.
  • New York’s Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
  • Wisconsin’s Bellin Health.
  • Tennessee’s Niswonger Children’s Network (part of Ballad Health) and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
  • Pennsylvania’s OSS Health.

I understand how organizations want to toot their own proverbial horn, but even the cheapest Super Bowl ad represents a lot of dollars that could be used to do things like provide patient care, support staff, improve facilities, and more. The reality is that organizations spend a tremendous amount of money on advertising. Case in point: A recent article noted that Atrium Health is paying $1.5 million over five years for naming rights at an amphitheater in Macon, GA, stating that “music is a great way to bring people together, and we know that strong social relationships have been associated with improved physical and mental health.” Atrium also paid to name a local minor league stadium in Kannapolis, NC, after the health system. They’re four years into a 10-year deal, so I wonder what kind of return they’re getting on their investment. It seems like an enduring presence at a local facility will get more attention than a fleeting Super Bowl ad.

Hospitals weren’t the only healthcare players getting in on the advertising game. Pfizer had an ad featuring the music of Queen that focused on its vision for the future of cancer care. Astellas Pharma promoted a menopause treatment that retails for $660 per month. MangoRx added an ad for its erectile dysfunction treatments to round out the health-related content. The United States is one of the only developed nations where direct-to-consumer advertising is allowed, and most physicians I talk to wish such campaigns would go away. In my experience, nearly all of the patients who follow the advice to “ask your doctor if drug X is right for you” would benefit from other (usually less expensive) treatments than the one that was featured in a glitzy marketing campaign.

I would be interested to see some industry data that shows how much the average hospital or health system is spending on marketing efforts and what they believe is their return on that investment. For example, we’ve all seen so many renaming and rebranding efforts that it feels like it’s impossible to remember who is who. One of our local hospitals spent a ridiculous amount of money putting a new light-up sign on the top floor of the hospital, replacing the existing light-up sign. This one is 50-percent larger and is borderline distracting when you’re on the freeway, and offers no other redeeming value – not even a conversion to more energy efficient LED lighting.

I continue to see hospitals that are penny wise but pound foolish. One local facility has a significant problem with employee turnover. Nurses are jumping ship because pay isn’t keeping up with local competitors. Instead, nurses are bouncing from hospital to hospital every 12 to 18 months in search of better pay and benefits. The lowest-paying hospital is losing tons of money due to the turnover costs, not to mention the loss of institutional knowledge and community reputation as nurses don’t hesitate to tell friends and family how “cheap” hospital administration is. Sure, administrators have controlled salary costs in the short term, but at what long-term cost? It seems that doesn’t really matter, since there is churn at the administrator level as well and people leave when there are too many questions. Still, the hospital supports various local sports teams, but it’s a sad day when it can’t prioritize reduction in nursing turnover. Another local hospital ended hot food service for overnight workers, which I suspect isn’t going to be a real satisfier for those who are on the night shift.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who works for one of the institutions who made a Super Bowl ad purchase, or who is a consumer of healthcare in their region. Are you proud that your organization showcased its expertise or are you left scratching your head because you know they’re claiming financial hardships that should exclude a Super Bowl ad from the budget? Even if you don’t have an institutional connection, what do you think about healthcare organizations advertising in general? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. The Super Bowl ads are likely only example where funds would be better directed to nursing support, replacement of worn out equipment and the like, especially when the hospital is a virtual monopoly already.

  2. Excellent review! As a business guru once said, fifty percent of marketing costs work but we do not know which fifty percent–paraphrasing. Lot of lunches and media kickbacks for the Mad Men in figuring it out.

  3. Dr Jayne is noticing one of the more egregious but trivial instance of bad behavior by allegedly non-profit organizations.

    I wrote a whole rant about it here a couple of weeks ago https://thehealthcareblog.com/blog/2024/02/05/the-moneys-in-the-wrong-place-how-to-fund-primary-care/

    But the key point to remember is that hospitals are 50-80% funded by the tax payer. Would we accept government entities doing this? Would we be happy if the DMV were promoting its services at $7m a time?

    Would we be happy if the DMV was paying its top 26 employees over $1m a year, as, in one example I picked, RWJFBarnabas in NJ does?

    Well I guess they have to spend those reserves on something…

    • “Would we accept govt entities doing this?’ You are asking if society would accept govt being wasteful with taxpayer money? Surely you jest. It is the very foundation of our economy.

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