Dr. Mirvis is the Editor-in-Chief of this journal and a Professor of Radiology, Diagnostic Imaging Department, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD.
About 20 years ago, I was sitting at a meeting with senior staff
members (I have no idea what I was doing there). The CEO was wondering
why our inner-city hospital was unable to attract the nice suburban
patients who generally had private insurance. “We do so many great
things here. Why won’t they come?” We speculated about the lack of
parking, the long drive downtown, fear of the neighborhood around the
hospital, and competition from a certain other major hospital in town.
Same old stuff; nothing we all didn’t know.
Since my father sold
radio advertising and I knew something about that and its potential
power, I suggested we do some radio and newspaper ads to improve how we
were perceived and what great care we provided. The CEO, who I really
admired, looked at me as if I had a screw loose. I get a lot of that. He
laughed about how a professional organization like a hospital would look
sleazy actually advertising our services. I argued that lawyers were
advertising all over the place – by the way, I believe this development
made lawsuits a growth industry and was the start of the downfall of the
United States as a world power. The fact that lawyers did it only
stiffened the CEO’s resolve not to.
Flash forward to today.
Medical facilities advertise like crazy. Driving to work in the morning
(23 minutes) I hear at least 5 commercials for medical services. They
are mildly to markedly sickening. Blah, blah, blah has the best
fertility success rate in the area – the “area” is a one-block radius
around the clinic. The Jones family 2 blocks away has a much higher
fertility success rate. Blah...also has a payment plan to meet anyone’s
reproductive needs. If you really want to save money, blah offers lower
cost, alternative treatments (I can only imagine).Another allegedly
top-tier facility talks about their brand new gamma-knife that
eliminates target tumors and spares surrounding tissue. The fact that
this is about the twentieth gamma-knife in the Metro D.C. area is beside
the point. The benign effects of this treatment are grossly
overemphasized. As a final example, we have the Lasik specialist
offering a deep discount for the first 500 patients to sign on, but they
must have both eyes done. I guess that means whether the other eye
needs correction or not.
Well, since we have all clearly sold out to the Madison Avenue Men,
we might as well go all the way. I propose a “buy one get one
free”offer on any imaging test you want/need. We could do His and Her
barium enemas or prenuptial couples total body CTs to see if any
problems may be secretly lurking in the background that could haunt one
spouse later; a sort of high-tech kicking of the tires. Hospitals could
offer credit cards with double points for surgery that can be redeemed
for pharmaceuticals, lab tests or, in our hospital, a hyperbaric oxygen
treatment. Another commercial trend I really like is putting food
vendors in hospitals, particularly fast food joints. These are not only
profitable today but provide future cardiovascular, liposuction, and
gastric bypass patients for tomorrow. We now have a food court in our
hospital that is a culinary wonderland (you wonder what things are).
There is a store selling fancy wigs and all kinds of cosmetic
paraphernalia to deal with hair or tissue loss and so on. The typical
hospital sundries store in the lobby is totally bourgeois.
we need to ramp this commercial arm of our institutions up. Why not have
entire shopping malls attached? You have a captive audience of
patients, their families and visitors, kind of like an airport. Every
commercial on hospital TV would push shopping in our mall. We actually
now have T-shirts you can buy that say: “I survived Shock-Trauma twice.”
That’s a double; profit in the shirt and free advertising.How about
another t-shirt with: “My hemorrhoids were treated at so and so rectal
My colleague Dr. Shanmuganathan and I have plans to open a
Sri Lankan and Jewish-style restaurant in our hospital called (Shan
Grill-La) to supplement reimbursement cut-backs. Just imagine curried
white fish on your choice of Nan bread or bagel. I guess the menu would
need to be IRB approved. This would become an international chain and in
no time an IPO would bring in a few billion dollars, and we could buy
any imaging equipment we could dream of. We would really be the first in
the area to have all the new toys.
These are only a few ideas to
consider. I am sure the ad men can come up with hundreds more. Who needs
to worry about Medicare or insurance company reimbursement? We could
give discount or free care with impunity. The residents could have
swimming pools, exercise rooms, a movie theatre, and BMW’s. So you see, I
was right 20 years ago, just way ahead of my time. The retired CEO is
now sitting at home watching the sizzling new hit TV series from our
hospital—Darkroom Affairs—and wondering why he didn’t take me seriously.