Hospital Ads -- The Whys and Hows of Perverse Incentives

Last Updated Aug 31, 2008 12:52 PM EDT

Hospital advertising is, by and large, a baleful influence on healthcare, not least because it so often bolsters demand for expensive but unproven procedures that inflate medical bills and insurance premiums without any guarantee that they're making anyone better.

Whew. Now that I've got that out of my system, let me direct your attention to two great in-depth looks at the hows and whys of hospital advertising that help explain its prevalence and its unintended effects. First, there's an older piece by Paul Levy at Running a Hospital, in which the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CEO argues that it's actually hard to know whether hospital ads actually draw patients or encourage elective procedures. Instead, Levy suggests, the main value of such ads is to demonstrate top-level support for a medical facility's doctors and staffers, thus improving morale and making it easier to recruit skilled and motivated people.

Next is Maggie Mahar's more recent take over at Health Beat, which focuses on the cost of hospital advertising, questions whether healthcare dollars might be better spent on broader public-health campaigns or in providing care for uninsured or underinsured patients, and critiques the way some community hospitals have forged corrupt deals with local media in order to promote their own services via free media.

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    David Hamilton is the assistant managing editor of CNET News. He has been writing and editing business and tech coverage for about two decades -- the majority of that at the Wall Street Journal in both Tokyo and San Francisco. He is a two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club award and has written for numerous magazines and blogs, including Slate, Science, VentureBeat, CBS Interactive's BNET, California Lawyer and the New Republic.