Tuesday, April 30, 2019

When a big hospital buys a smaller one, beware of its ads

Advertising by large hospitals is often misleading, and it can be more so when a big hospital buys a smaller one, national health journalist Trudy Lieberman writes for Rural Health News Service.

Trudy Lieberman
Lieberman, who lives in New York City but is from Nebraska, notes ads from NYC hospitals about their research rankings and "medical miracles for hard-to-cure patients." She writes, "Why is this something I need to know before choosing a hospital? I can think of several other measures – like a hospital’s infection rates for blood stream or surgical site infections or its readmission rates – that can indicate poor care and are far more useful. These metrics are sometimes available on state health department websites or on the Medicare Hospital Compare site."

She quotes Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center: “The problem with these ads is they may not be giving a realistic picture to people who have serious life-threatening cancers and other diseases and suggest that survival, if not certain, is at least likely. . . . It’s cruel to suggest you’re getting something special or otherwise unattainable when that’s not the case.”

Lieberman writes, "These ad campaigns designed to make you think favorably of a hospital are part of a larger campaign to build brand recognition much like detergent or cereal makers do. Caplan told her, “Medicine is mainly being treated like a business. More and more, people are treated as customers, and doctors are treated as providers. You’d be a sap if you don’t advertise. I see a lot of cut-throat competition.”

Brand recognition ads are "especially important when what Caplan calls the Mother Ship Hospital buys smaller facilities in other locations as a way to bring in more patients," Lieberman writes. "When people live in communities where, say, a hospital like New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital or the Cleveland Clinic has bought a satellite facility, they’ll think favorably about someday being a patient at the local affiliate."

She adds, "A recent study published in the JAMA Network Open found that the likelihood of surviving complex cancer surgery appears to be greater for those who had the procedure at the top-ranked hospitals than at their affiliates. Until we know more, the best advice is to take hospital advertising with a grain of salt. Do research on your own if you are in a situation where you can make a choice – many people can’t – using the Medicare Hospital Compare website and any state information. You might also consider information on LeapfrogGroup.org, a nonprofit patient-safety organization, to help with your decision-making."

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