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Don't Let Marketing Language Mislead Patients

Anna Webster, for HealthLeaders Media, June 8, 2011

Laura Harner, Marketing Manager for Lehigh Valley Health Network says that using terminology such as "best" or "superior" is insufficient and should to be supported by evidence. Lehigh Valley Health Network uses marketing phrases such as the words "best" and "first" around specific claims, then backs them up:

    • "Best Heart Attack Survival Rate" -- substantiated by CMS data that points to Lehigh Valley Health Network's lowest mortality rate in the state
    • "Pennsylvania's first and the region's largest trauma center" --- supported by statewide trauma volumes reported to the independent state agency, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.

"When we make a claim, we also give the consumer a "proof" point to support it. Before we make any claim, we make sure it is a fact that can verified by an outside source and something we can provide documentation on," said Harner.

Two years ago, Lehigh Valley Health Network rebranded with a new tagline: A Passion for Better Medicine. The word "better" was chosen because it shows a journey to improved care. Consumers were shown to appreciate the word "better" because it was more believable, aspirational, and approachable.

Lehigh Valley Health Network does not use manufacturer-provided materials on their website, and instead aligns marketing information based on individual needs of the facility.

"As it becomes more and more difficult to differentiate services in highly competitive markets, it becomes even more important to make sure marketers hold their organizations accountable for what they say in their marketing messages and the level of care actually provided by supporting claims with facts and data generated by a reputable, outside sources," Harner added.

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2 comments on "Don't Let Marketing Language Mislead Patients"


Kris Beldin (6/10/2011 at 4:40 PM)
Great article. It is a real concern that many of us as consumers/patients don't think about, particularly when it is a hospital doing the marketing. I hear ads for robotic surgery as you mentioned and I too come away thinking it's a great procedure with very few side effects or risks. As a PR person for a healthcare provider it has been eye opening for me to understand the potential risks of a great story I want to pitch. I always have to remember that we are liable for any claims we make in our stories or pitches – and it's a big difference from when I worked in the tech space, while we had to be accurate and honest, the same liabilities just weren't there. Thanks for the good article.

Simon Sikorski, M.D. Twitter @medmarketingcoe (6/10/2011 at 7:02 AM)
This is a great article and very timely advice. Health care providers, hospitals, and medical organizations should really pay attention. Most of the time the issues identified in this article are due to the lack of involvement of the health care providers. Moving forward their voices are expected in marketing communications, education, CME, etc. Don't just rely on PR & Marketing departments. Get your health care providers involved.