Yesterday, I attended the retirement reception for Melanie Rich, the Director of Marketing for Upstate Medical University. I was reminded of the great work that she has done over the years to help brand the Upstate name in Central New York. It is certainly through her efforts and the efforts of the Marketing group that Upstate and University Hospital are more in the minds of consumers and patients today than they were 10 or 15 years ago.
At the same time, the event caused me to step back and reflect on changes that have occurred here in Central New York. In 1987 when I came from Dayton, Ohio back to Syracuse, it was remarkable how different these two markets were. At that time in Ohio, the hospitals were fiercely competitive. Billboards, print advertising, TV and radio commercials were common place. At that time in Syracuse it was remarkable to me how little competitive advertising and marketing there was in the Syracuse market.
Dial forward to today where all the hospitals in the Central New York region invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing and advertising. As the hospital business has become more competitive and margins have shrunk, it has become more and more important for hospitals to stake out their claim for certain services and to try and attract patients. While you could argue, purely from a business prospective, that the explosion of marketing and advertising makes good sense, one has to wonder in the long run if it is a good strategic use of the precious resources in the healthcare system.
In the current healthcare environment, with the implementation of healthcare reform, the goal is to provide more and better care at less expense. Consider for a moment the following events, and ask how they contribute to better care at less cost:
- The University of Rochester, an academic medical center 90 miles to our West advertising in the Syracuse newspaper for the care of patients with prostate disease, while the same services with clinical expertise and quality outcomes exists here in Central New York.
- A hospital 45 minutes to our North advertises its urgent care services with billboards on Route 690 and 81.
- Three separate after hours orthopedic care enterprises are simultaneously and competitively advertising their services in Central New York.
- Institutions like Syracuse University and the Syracuse Crunch Hockey team take healthcare dollars and then designate “official” hospitals.
It seems hard to imagine that these kinds of efforts are contributing to better care, high quality outcomes, reduced expenditure in healthcare.
Having said that, all of us in the healthcare industry whether we are a hospital, health system, individual physician practices, or ancillary support services are complicit in this marketing and advertizing spin up. We seem to be in a cycle that can’t be broken. Perhaps it is a good time as all of us struggle, and all of us work to implement healthcare reform, that we rethink where the precious resources we have to improve patient care are best spent. This is obviously not a discussion that can occur in isolation, or can occur in just one of the healthcare institutions in our region. It would need to be a collaborative discussion and decision made in the interests of our patient, rather than in the interest of our individual businesses. Perhaps it is time for such discussion to start.