More and more of the nation's top academic medical centers are using advertising to attract new patients, rolling out extensive marketing efforts that appear to "place the interests of the medical center before the interests of the patients," according to a new study in the March 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
A team of researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., and Dartmouth Medical School studied the marketing practices of 17 top academic medical centers named on the 2002 U.S. News & World Report's list of "America's Best Hospitals." While 16 of the hospitals said they advertised to attract patients, none had a formal review process to examine marketing techniques, the study found. Many of those ads, researchers found, highlighted the benefits of "unproved or cosmetic procedures" while providing little or no information on potential harm.
"If academic medical centers are to continue with advertising to attract patients, we believe they must be more sensitive to the conflict of interest between public health and making money," the study report said. Researchers suggested that academic medical centers consider mandating the same kind of formal institutional review that the Food and Drug Administration requires of hospitals when they advertise to recruit research participants. "Why should patients get less protection than research subjects?" the study asked. -- by Michael Romano