Hospitals run advertisements for a number of reasons — to educate patients, promote their services, and solicit donations, among others.
Some academics warn that hospital advertisements might leave out critical information, such as how a typical patient might respond to a certain treatment. “There are a lot of information asymmetries,” said Dr. Yael Schenker, a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied cancer center advertising. “Medical decisions are different than decisions about what car to buy and what cereal to eat. It’s a lot harder to access the information you need to make a good decision.”
But hospitals say these commercials are important to raise awareness and raise funds. STAT reviewed data from media research firm iSpot.tv data to identify the nonprofit hospitals that ran national television ads during the most valuable spots last year. The dollar figures represent list price for the air time, and don’t reflect how much the hospitals actually spent.
St. Jude’s ran 46 different advertisements in 2016, some of which were seen hundreds of thousands of times. The top ad — “Fight to End Cancer” — solicits donations of $19 a month to support the organization, which helps cover the cost of “thermometers and other tools,” according to the hospital’s website.
This hospital’s top ad of 2016, focusing on pediatric cancer, featured the stories of children helped by Shriners physicians and called for donations to the hospital.
Not surprisingly, all of this hospital’s advertisements were about cancer. The seven national ads aired during 2016 were viewed about a billion times. “Given our national and global reach, we feel our advertising investment is appropriate and responsible,” the hospital told STAT.
This Texas-based pediatric medical practice ran only one national TV advertisement in 2016, promoting the organization’s “exceptional pediatric care.” A spokesperson for Children’s Health said that it did not spend any money on national advertising in 2016 — the television spot was aired as part of a broadcast of its holiday parade. “They were placed in random select markets that needed to fill time,” the spokesperson said.
The Cleveland Clinic ran one national advertisement in 2016 encouraging patients with heart conditions to seek its doctors’ services for a second opinion. “We treat patients who have the highest complexity with the lowest mortality rates from around the world,” a Cleveland Clinic spokesperson told STAT. “This campaign gives us the opportunity to educate patients about the availability of the heart program to them.”
This Ohio hospital solicited funds with one national advertisement in 2016, which was viewed about 110,000 times. It depicts a handful of children, and one parent, talking about their medical conditions, followed by a solicitation for donations.