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3 Better Ways to Market Bariatric Surgery

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   December 11, 2013

If you're still using before and after photos to promote the benefits of weight loss surgery, check out these forward-thinking marketing tactics in use by hospitals around the country.

Initially, promoting a bariatric surgery service line is a marketer's dream—the before and after photos combined with patient testimonials create a visual and compelling appeal to potential patients.

However, as competition has increased and the number of surgeries performed in the US have decreased (down from 200,000 in 2008 to 150,000 in 2010, according to the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery) marketers have had to search for fresh ways to attract enough weight loss surgery candidates.

Recently, I've come across three untraditional hospital efforts that are presenting their weight loss surgery programs to patients in a whole new light.

1. A Weight Loss Surgery 'Visualizer' App
Some patients may be considering bariatric surgery, but have a hard time visualizing their potential results. Now Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas has an app for that.

The smartphone application, called "the shaper," allows users to "upload your own photo and gently swipe away the extra pounds from your body, receiving an instant preview of how a bariatric procedure can transform your physique," according to a press release.

The app was developed by a team led by Valley Health System's advertising director Christine Beltran, as well as a Canadian software company that makes "virtual plastic surgery imaging software."

"It gives people the power to envision how they could look," state Desert Springs CEO Sam Kaufman in prepared remarks. "Undertaking a major surgery is a mental, emotional and physical commitment. This is another tool to help you make that decision."

Kaufman himself underwent gastric-sleeve weight-loss surgery in April and has lost more than 100 pounds.

The app drives users to the Desert Springs bariatric surgery microsite, where people can learn more about their weight loss offerings.

2. A Fashion Show for Bariatric Success Stories
The University of Alabama Hospital's Bariatric Surgery Services has helped patients share their successes of achieving a healthier lifestyle through weight loss surgery during its annual UAB Hospital Bariatric Surgery Services Fashion Show.

Patients who participated in the event were one to five years post-operative, and each participant had lost 50-250 pounds since their surgery. The event highlights the hardships, trials, and commitments made by the participants to follow the orders of the program and discuss how they continue to thrive today.

The fashion show features three scenes—casual, dress wear, and a wedding scene, which this year featured a patient who wore a size 26 before weight loss and now wears a size four dress. The event was free and open to the public.

With the right amount of social media buzz and press coverage, a fashion event like this could prove to be even more successful in attracting new patients than developing a visualizer app. Like the app, the event allows potential surgical candidates to see the results they may achieve, and it has the added benefit of creating a positive, celebratory atmosphere.

3.Celebrating Weight Loss Success in a Letter
The Weight Loss Surgery Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston publishes a quarterly "Weight Loss and Well Being" e-letter that goes out to former and potential patients alike.

Each issue features a weight loss surgery success story, news about patients and staff, healthy recipe tips, and a lighthearted feature about avoiding temptation. It also includes a Q&A with a trainer, a Q&A with a nutritionist, and a nutrition quiz.

My favorite element in this e-newsletter is that feature story is written by a member of the clinical care team. In the Fall 2013 issue, Linda Trainor, RN, BSN, tells the story of a young woman named Samantha who made the decision to have a lap-band procedure when she was just 19.

"After extensive research and discussion with her primary care physician and parents, Sam opted to have weight loss surgery," Trainor writes. "She decided that the adjustable gastric (lap) band was the right choice for her, taking into consideration that it was a less invasive procedure and could be personalized with band fill adjustments."

The newsletter serves the dual purpose of helping former patients continue to lose weight and maintain weight loss, while also highlighting their successful results to potential patients.

BIDMC's Weight Loss Surgery Center's microsite also features video testimonials, a weight loss seminar schedule, and an on-demand webinar about weight loss surgery.


Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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