Not All Clinical Affiliations are Created Equal

This blog post has been living in my head for some time. I’ve finally decided it is time to put in in writing. You see, among other things, my firm specializes in marketing clinical affiliations between academic medical centers and community hospitals. The affiliations we market bring real value to the patients of these community hospitals. Specialists and subspecialists from the academic medical centers leave the mother ship each week and travel to these suburban communities, where they see patients in the community in which they live. So, for example, families who live 30 miles north of Boston don’t have to drive into the city to have their child see a pediatric neurologist. Rather, they can see a specialist from one of Boston’s remarkable children’s hospitals in the community where they live. For a family with a seriously ill child, this care delivery model is of great value. It is a distributed care model where care is pushed out into the communities surrounding the medical center, rather than sucked into the mother ship. (Granted, some patients inevitably end up being treated at the academic medical center.)

However, as I said in the title of this post, not all clinical affiliations are created equal. Traveling around the country I see many widely marketed affiliations that in my opinion offer little to no value to the patient. What am I talking about? Specifically, I’m talking about clinical affiliations where the patient has no access to clinicians from the academic medical center (AMC) or research center that is the “source” of more sophisticated specialty care. Usually the AMC is located in a different region of the country. I’m also talking about affiliations where patients have no access to clinical trials offered by the AMC partner. If all the community hospital has done is buy access to the treatment protocols of their AMC partner, then they should be very careful about how they represent that affiliation to the public. (Some do a good job of this.) A clinical affiliation should not simply be a positioning tool for the community hospital. It may sound sexy to say you’re affiliated with one of the leading medical centers in the country, but what value does it provide your patients. (And I’ve noticed that some community hospital make the affiliation the focus of their marketing program.)

Certainly there is a benefit to community hospitals when they align with an AMC and adopt their treatment protocols in a specific area. No argument from me there. There’s even more value when the hospital’s physicians have access to the specialists at the AMC for consults. But please don’t imply that the affiliation is any more than that. And don’t be intentionally vague, leaving the consumer to assume that there is more to the affiliation than there really is. That kind of marketing is misleading and deceitful – and some of the biggest healthcare brands in our business are allowing this to happen. Their brands are for sale and become the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” in community hospital billboards and print ads. (You can see why this post lived in my head for quite a while.)

End of rant.

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