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Hospital ads play on fear and vanity


What nurses do and don't like about their work…reputable hospitals use questionable advertising ploys…are you at risk for occupational asthma?…and more.



Many top medical centers use the same questionable advertising techniques that drug companies employ, according to a recent study of 17 medical centers named to the U.S. News and World Report list of “best hospitals.” Researchers concluded that many hospital ads intended to attract patients concealed risks and manipulated patients' fear, vanity, and other emotions.

Researchers analyzed newspaper ads published by such top institutions as the Johns Hopkins Medical Center (Baltimore), Massachusetts General Hospital (Boston), and the University of Chicago Hospitals. Of the 122 ads reviewed, 21 promoted specific services, such as Botox injections and laser eye surgery, but only one mentioned the procedure's risks.

Most ads tried to attract patients by arousing vanity, fear, and other emotions—a tactic commonly associated with consumer advertising. The researchers concluded, “Many of the ads seemed to place the interests of the medical center before the interests of the patients.”

A spokesperson for the American Hospital Association (AHA) said that that hospitals must advertise to survive in today's competitive market and that appealing to emotion is acceptable if ads are sensitive, fair, and accurate. Under AHA guidelines, however, hospitals should also disclose risks for procedures they advertise.

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Advertising by academic medical centers, Archives of Internal Medicine, RJ Larson, et al., March 28, 2005.
    © 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.