This notion of healthcare marketing as a public trust occurred to me last week as I was conducting 21 on-camera interviews with patients, hospital employees and physicians. These people trust us to tell their stories in an honest and compelling manner. It really is an amazing level of trust they put in us as communicators and storytellers. It is an honor and a privilege to both craft and share those stories with various audiences.
But the trust I’m talking about is the trust that the public has that the information we present through our marketing is honest and presented in a fashion that represents their best interest. It should not be intended to confuse the target audience; nor should it over-complicate an already complicated topic.
Even with all the moves toward transparency and the sharing of quality data, my belief is that we still do more to confuse than to clarify. We promote the data that suits our needs – that tells the story we want to tell. (Some of it is a problem with data.) I visit towns and cities all over America and see billboards where each hospital is claiming to be #1 on some quality survey or measure. (Should we promote LeapFrog data, CMS data or some other survey?) What does it all mean to consumers? What are they to make of all these claims? And how do we truly compare health outcomes for a major academic medical center (AMC) with those of a small community hospital? Aren’t there times when the community hospitals do better because the AMC’s are getting the most complicated cases?
Hospitals then add potentially more confusion by promoting hospital rankings such as U.S. News & World Report, Consumer Reports, or Healthgrades. These services/reports do not always agree with one another. Check out this article in The Wall Street Journal: What Are the Best Hospitals? Rankings Disagree. These rankings lead to more billboards and ads with hospitals claiming supremacy in some clinical area or quality standard.
“The measures were so divergent that 27 hospitals were simultaneously rated among the nation’s best by one service and among the worst by another.” (Source: The Wall Street Journal, “What are the Best Hospitals? Rankings Disagree.” March 2, 2015)
It is hard to argue against better informed consumers. Sharing data with them is a good thing. However, I believe we have a long way to go in developing truly meaningful and thoughtful ways to share this data with healthcare consumers. How do we do it in a manner that removes confusion and clarifies important questions about quality, expertise and pricing?
As healthcare communicators and marketers we do have a public trust. I feel strongly that each of us should approach our jobs, each day, with that in mind. It would lead to us sharing better information with the communities we serve. We should strive to help consumers with their decision-making, not manipulate or confuse them. When a hospital runs one of those “We’re Number One” billboards (knowing that all the other hospitals in the market are doing the same thing), I don’t believe that they are intentionally trying to confuse or mislead consumers, but I also don’t think they are clearly thinking through their obligation to share meaningful information with their constituents.
This is only going to get more complicated as more hospitals begin sharing quality and pricing data – and as more entities enter into the hospital and physician rating game. As we move forward, let’s keep the best interest of the consumer/patient in the foreground.