Beaumont Health likes to present itself in television and radio advertisements and in media interviews about how it has treated the most patients with COVID-19 and vaccinated the most people in Michigan against coronavirus.
Hospitals marketing themselves alongside COVID-19 vaccinations
But lately Beaumont's advertisements may be coming very close to the line that separates educational efforts to encourage people to getting vaccines to business marketing campaigns intended to generate customers and loyalty, improve quality reputation and drive higher revenue.
For example, Beaumont has had a TV ad out since early March with a nurse touting its vaccination center and declaring Beaumont hospitals have treated more COVID-19 patients than any other hospital system in Michigan.
"Beat the pandemic with Beaumont" on March 9 is a 30-second ad that leads off with how Beaumont has been fighting the pandemic with our community since Michigan's first COVID patients were diagnosed.
"It takes all of us. We're proud to have care for the most COVID patients in the state. And now, we're leading the fight to end the pandemic with our new vaccination clinics, with every person who vaccinate. Our community grows stronger, and we can only do it together. beat the pandemic."
While the ad was created to encourage people to get their COVID-19 vaccination, Beaumont is clearly sending the message that people can trust their medical care to Beaumont doctors and nurses, despite the pandemic.
When coupled with other Beaumont ads and announcements encouraging people to not delay elective surgeries, procedures or other routine tests because of fear of contracting COVID-19, the vaccination ads support a larger marketing message for Southfield-based Beaumont, an eight-hospital not-for-profit system.
So far, Beaumont has administered 312,000 doses and has opened walk-in clinics that don't require appointments. Some 95% of people who have been vaccinated are current patients, a spokesman said.
In a statement to Crain's, Beaumont said anyone who registers for COVID-19 vaccinations through Beaumont myChart system could receive a variety of educational materials about Beaumont's clinical services unless the person opts out of receiving them.
"For all people living in and around the communities we serve, Beaumont has always encouraged community members to be proactive with their healthcare by having a primary care physician and having appropriate health screenings and exams," the statement said.
"Beaumont sends educational materials to people who are patients and to people who are not patients. If an individual does not want to receive educational information from Beaumont, he or she can opt out at any time," Beaumont said.
For example, if a Beaumont patient or someone who registered for a vaccine is over age 50, they may receive a reminder for a colonoscopy, a spokesman said.
Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health, another large health system with 15 hospitals in Michigan, also has been aggressively advertising and marketing its COVID-19 vaccination program.
Like Beaumont, Spectrum has regularly held Zoom telepress conferences with doctors, nurses and administrators encouraging people to get vaccinated and trying to allay fears people might have of being exposed to coronavirus by coming to hospitals for routine treatment.
In a statement, Spectrum said its goal has been to educate the public about the COVID-19 vaccine and the clinical studies that indicate the vaccines are safe and effective. The nonprofit health system has worked closely with local health departments and other health systems to offer vaccination sites.
"We have been providing people with the facts to help them make an informed decision about being vaccinated. We've taken a community service approach using every aspect of marketing communications, including website content, media relations, social media, live panel discussions and Facebook Lives and videos, with a focus on vaccine as a path toward ending the pandemic," said Spectrum, adding: "Our work continues as we strive to make the vaccine as convenient and accessible as possible for all."
Spectrum was asked how it will use sensitive patient health information gleaned through registration for vaccines. For now, the system said, it has no plans to use the data for other purposes.
"The patient data captured to date as part of the vaccine scheduling process has been used only to communicate vaccine-related information or updates (for example, appointment reminders)," Spectrum said. "At this time, we have no plans to use this data for any other purpose as our focus continues to be on vaccine administration and the health of our communities.
When hospitals started to offer vaccinations, Matt Friedman, a marketing and communications expert with Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications in Farmington Hills, said it was limited to people who were already hospital patients and tied directly through individual hospital electronic medical records.
"Was that done for compliance reasons or to build patient loyalty? I don't know," he said. "Back in December, hospitals were working under a set of rules. Now it seems there's a real upside if a patient has a good experience in the vaccinations. They'll think of that facility in a positive light going forward."
John Fox, CEO of Beaumont Health, has been an outspoken advocate of using hospitals as one of the primary vaccination sites.
"Beaumont has been a leader in Michigan since the pandemic began. Now, we are helping to lead our state out of this health crisis. We believe getting as many people as possible vaccinated will stop the spread of the virus and save lives," Fox said in a statement to Crain's.
"When we were considering what our next marketing campaign should focus upon, I felt strongly that we needed to use our advertising to advocate for vaccination. There is no other health message that is more important to our patients and communities right now. This is truly a public service campaign for our communities," he said.
"This is also an important message for our team members who have worked tirelessly over the past year caring for COVID-19 patients. The vaccine will not only reduce the number of patients who need to be hospitalized because of the virus, but it will also protect our staff. We all need to work together to end this pandemic. The bottom line is – we want our patients, our communities and our staff to get vaccinated.
"Launching a marketing campaign about vaccination is just one of the many ways we are serving our community during this pandemic," Fox said.
Dr. Ali Hassan, chief medical officer with Dearborn-based First Urgent Care Centers, said hospitals have done a good job in promoting COVID-19 vaccines and organizing clinics. He said urgent care clinics like First Urgent Care would also like to become vaccination centers.
"From what I've seen at least, this is probably one of the few times where hospitals are truly trying to help more with curbing the pandemic rather than looking at only profits," Hassan said.
Privacy attorney Debra Geroux with Butzel Long in Bloomfield Hills said she believes hospitals are advertising coronavirus vaccinations primarily as public service announcements. She said higher vaccination rates will reduce community spread of COVID-19, save lives and reduce suffering.
But the secondary message to customers has the potential of burnishing hospitals' brands.
"Every time they get any sort of coverage, whether it's in the news or their own marketing campaign, at the end of the day, it's the brand that you're hoping the viewers will remember," Geroux said.
"All these health systems, whether Beaumont, Henry Ford or Michigan Medicine, those entities are really going for brand recognition. They're vastly intertwined (with the PSAs). It is probably very strategic in the message is made."
Many hospitals, physician organizations and clinics were partially shut down and restricted medical care because of COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare organizations lost millions of dollars in billable services as costs rose for PPE.
"They are out there now marketing their services, telling people it is safe to return to the hospital or physician office" because of vaccinations, personal protective equipment and concerns over people delaying preventive or necessary treatments, Geroux said.
"They are telling people to come get a vaccination. We are handling this pandemic," she said. "They believe it will help us in the long run because they're going to remember us in a positive light."
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