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Hospitals spend big advertising bucks to attract, educate patients

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Hospitals in the St. Louis area are spending big bucks on advertising to attract patients and promote their brands, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Their marketing campaigns go beyond traditional radio ads, TV spots and billboards and also include sponsored links with Web engine searches and targeted emails to educate the public. In addition to promoting a hospital's cancer treatments or stroke care, ads also foster better public health by, for example, reminding patients to get preventive screenings, such as mammograms, the article noted.

Nonprofit BJC Healthcare system spent $13.4 million on advertising and promotion in 2010, according to IRS tax filings. With adverting particularly important for helping independently-owned hospitals maintain long-term viability against larger systems, independent St. Anthony's Medical Center spent $1.9 million on promotion and advertising in fiscal year 2011, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Despite goals of better informed patients, should hospitals be shelling out so many ad dollars?

"It's siphoning money away from healthcare. Advertising shouldn't be confused with taking care of patients or improving patient care," Sidney Wolfe, director of the health research group at Public Citizen, told the Post-Dispatch.

But with more patients making choices based on brand reputation, hospital executives need to make branding a top priority to enhance their organization's image, as well boost patient volume, according to the May issue of healthcare marketing report Protocol from Smith & Jones, a healthcare marketing firm in Troy, N.Y.

To do so, some hospitals are using celebrity endorsements to attract patients in today's competitive healthcare environment. But they must choose a spokesperson with qualities and characteristics that correspond with the hospital and its culture.

To learn more:
- here's the Post-Dispatch article

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