Please, don’t get me wrong in my reaction to these ads. I find them interesting and potentially useful. As in the case of DTC materials, advertisements of medical services have value in alerting the public to treatment options, as well as physicians and centers with experience and expertise in particular areas.
You Might Also Like
Explore This IssueMarch 2011
Also By This Author
Business Side of Medicine
Medicine is a very competitive business, and I would like to emphasize the word business. Business is about customers, and customers have to know who is providing services and need direction on how to get there. Every medical center that receives a top ranking from U.S. News and World Reports (interestingly, an also-ran magazine that dropped out of the competition with Time and Newsweek to get into the ratings game) makes that achievement known even if the criteria for selection are uncertain and some of the rankings, based on reputation, are downright suspect. Until there are more objective measures of performance, reputation will be a major determinant of rankings—and reputation is often fluff.
What I find especially interesting about the ads in the airline magazines is the manner in which they portray illness. (This situation also pertains to ads in regular newspapers and magazines, although I tend to ignore them when I am not a captive in a cramped seat and that baby next to me is scrunching his face in a way I can only assume means he is filling his diapers). In these ads, the impact of illness is often minimized and, indeed, may be an object of mirth, merriment, or whimsy. On a recent trip, I saw an ad touting the expertise of a top medical center, although I am not sure what was being recommended. The text, which accompanied a picture of a navel of a surgerized abdomen, was simple: “Removing a kidney through a tiny incision. Going out through an inny.”
I am mystified about the intended meaning of this ad. Surgery to remove a kidney is major, performed only for serious indications like a nephrectomy for a hypernephroma or donor organ harvest. I have to ask myself whether, in the face of a renal carcinoma, which can cause real misery when it spreads, whether the size and location of the scar really matter. And what do outies do? Is there surgery for them at the center as well, or do they need to go someplace else?
Who Is The Target Audience?
I am a big believer in the freedom of commercial speech and the great value of consumer education on medical subjects, whether the information is provided by a physician’s organization, voluntary health organization, hospital, or pharmaceutical manufacture. Nevertheless, medicine is a deadly serious business. Surgery can fail, and it is just as likely that the new MRI scanner will show a tumor that has grown wildly as one that can be eliminated. I don’t watch much television, except for sports, and during the Olympics last year I saw many ads for a brand of MRI scanner. The more I saw that ad, the more convinced I became that this particular scanner actually cured cancer or detected only benign lesions. Unlike the machine in my hospital, the advertised scanner seemed to produce only good news.