In Rush to Promote High-Tech Treatments, What About Patients?

Marianne Aiello, May 1, 2013

Marketing done right is when hospitals successfully promote proven treatments to their communities. By and large, most marketing I come across follows this tactic.

Late ly, however, I've been seeing more instances of hospitals promoting unproven high-tech treatments and procedures in order to outpace their competitors.

Some call it an arms race. I call it the tail wagging the dog. Ultimately that dog can turn and bite you.

Controversial Proton Therapy in D.C.
In Washington D.C., two of the region's largest health systems, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Sibley Memorial Hospital, are vying to offer proton beam therapy, the Washington Post  reports. Proton beam therapy centers are large, expensive and unsupported by evidence of improved patient outcomes.

Proponents say the therapy is more precise in targeting tumors and safer for healthy tissue than conventional X-rays. It's thought that proton therapy's greatest potential is in treating children, especially those with brain and eye tumors. The therapy can be administered at higher doses than conventional radiation and causes fewer long-term side effects.

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The ECRI Institute suggests that since comparative effectiveness research is lacking, hospital leaders considering a major proton center build-out might wait a bit.

Nevertheless, if approved by the government, Sibley plans to open a $130 million facility in 2017. MedStar Georgetown has proposed a $32 million center, which could begin operating next year out of its existing cancer center. Both projects are pending a decision by D.C. health planning officials.

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