While some hospital administrators are taking a tough stance and revoking privileges for doctors who invest in competing specialty hospitals, one Wisconsin system is fighting back in a different way. Call it direct-to-consumer advertising, hospital style.
St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee is running an advertising campaign implying that a general hospital with a full roster of specialists is safer for patients who may suffer complications during surgery. The marketing campaign, which launched late last year, includes print advertisements in local newspapers and 60-second TV commercials aimed at countering competition from two newly opened specialty heart facilities in the metropolitan area: the Wisconsin Heart Hospital and the Heart Hospital of Milwaukee.
In a dig that suggests the new competitors can't provide the kind of comprehensive coverage available in a full-service hospital, the commercials feature an appearance from several specialists at the hospital. One of them, urologist Stuart Fine, tells the camera: "St. Luke's has a specialty to help you before, during and after your heart procedure, right here on site." Seconds later, Heidi Harkins, an emergency physician, adds, "Many patients that come to St. Luke's with symptoms of heart attacks are not having a heart attack at all. These patients' lives depend on our ability to treat more than heart problems."
"The message is about comprehensive care, and the fact that we're a full-service hospital," said Steve Pinzer, a spokesman for 787-bed St. Luke's.
Kristi Strode, president of Strode Communications, a Milwaukee marketing firm that isn't involved in the campaign, said she thinks the hospital's attempt to underscore its comprehensive care and full range of services is an effective way to distinguish itself from its smaller competitors.
St. Luke's is aiming the marketing broadside at its competitors as it completes a 13-story patient tower in the middle of its sprawling campus in downtown Milwaukee. Six of the floors in the 192-bed tower will be devoted to cardiac care when the facility debuts this fall. The hospital remains the dominant provider of cardiac services in the state and is ranked fifth nationally in terms of volume, officials said.
General acute-care hospitals like St. Luke's have complained for years that specialty facilities strip them of their most lucrative patients, leaving money-losing services and uninsured patients. That argument led Congress last year to impose an 18-month moratorium on specialty hospitals (See related story above). But even so, some specialty hospitals are experiencing financial problems (See related item, p. 32).
Officials with the two specialty hospitals suggested that the advertising campaign is not only ineffective but also inaccurate. They contend that their physicians can provide the same kind of comprehensive coverage available at any full-service facility.
"This isn't the first time we've seen other hospitals making this assertion," said John Antes, president of the Heart Hospital of Milwaukee, a 32-bed joint venture between local cardiologists and MedCath Corp. that opened in October 2003 in Glendale.
Norma McCutcheon, president of the Wisconsin Heart Hospital, said a number of physicians who appeared in the St. Luke's ads are also on the staff at her facility, a 30-bed joint venture between physicians and four-hospital Covenant Healthcare in Milwaukee that opened in late January in Wauwatosa. Her facility, she said, offers top-quality care and the kind of convenience that more and more patients are demanding.