From the Archives: Truth in Advertising

Posted on July 21, 2011

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I have begun the process of deconstructing the original HealthCare PSI Blog, which debuted on Typepad in August 2008. That blog had a brilliant run and launched my work as a patient safety advocate. Typepad used to be the premier blogging platform but it began to shift focus late last year. It is pricey and is looking a little dated. So when HealthCare PSI became a 501(c)(3) organization in December 2010, I took the opportunity to begin this new blog here on Wordpress, a platform that provides dependable service and continually updates its features. Is this the last change you’ll see? Don’t be silly. I’m always looking for the illusive “perfect” blog template and, as funds permit, our website will get a major facelift, too. (I won’t be happy with it until it can negotiate interstellar peace and make waffles.)

But for now, I’m moving a few posts over here. Their content is still relevant and speaks to HealthCare PSI’s mission and work. They’ll be housed in a catagory called Best of the Original Blog. The post below first ran in January 2010. The ideas expressed in it grew into our Hospital Truth in Advertising Campaign, which debuted last week. Oh, you should really sign that petition while you’re here. Seriously. I’m going to keep hounding you.

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Tuesday I wrote about Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Maine, who took their routine Joint Commission recertification and turned it into a sappy and self-serving promo piece disguised as hard news. I do not hold the reporter whose byline appears on this story responsible. Many hospitals make a point of owning their local media so that they can control what is said about them; but that’s a subject for another post. I’m simply tired of watching hospitals present spin as truth.

I have a background in marketing so I know you always want to paint your organization in the best possible light, but the healthcare industry has grossly overstepped its bounds in the past few years, and I think it’s time someone called them on it. Sounds like a good job for HealthCare PSI.

Now, I don’t care if industry insiders want to lie to each other about the systems they work for; the grapevine is alive and well so insiders know truth from fiction about their competitors. My focus is on hospital advertising – specifically messages to the public. Hospitals sell their services to the unsuspecting public, and most of the time their customers are sick, scared and extremely vulnerable. Remember, hospitals are not in the business of selling running shoes or laptops or car washes. They sell surgeries, cancer treatment, and other services that may very well mean the difference between life and death to their customers.

Hospitals regularly play on fear, and use intimidation and a good bit of Trust-Us-Because-We’re-The-Experts to attract business. Trouble is, the truth about patient outcomes within these institutions is usually hidden from the public; my archives are filled with stories of hospital attempts to keep their records secret. So, as healthcare in this country has steadily grown worse over the last couple of decades, the American public has been barraged with cheerful consoling imagery instead of truth. Hospitals fill their advertising with images like the one in this post; you see happy, stress-free, competent-looking models posing as physicians and nurses all dressed in clean scrubs and freshly starched coats, smiling at the camera. Looks like a page from the JC Penney catalog. Spin is passed off as truth. And truth? That’s locked up in a vault beneath the hospital Risk Manager’s office.

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