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Advertising by academic medical centers may risk eroding public trust, says study

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, VT and HANOVER, NH Most prominent academic medical centers develop and distribute advertisements to attract patients, but none have a formal review process to assess the balance and straightforwardness of these advertisements, according to a study by researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Dartmouth Medical School (DMS). Several of the ads promote services of unclear health value to the public and, in some cases, seem to place the financial interests of the medical centers before the interests of the patients, the authors conclude.

"We found it interesting that similar advertising practices by pharmaceutical companies have been criticized for creating demand for services and failing to present balanced information, but no one seemed to be turning the same critical eye on ads from academic medical centers," said Dr. Robin Larson, instructor in medicine at DMS and lead author of the study.

The study, published in the March 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, examined marketing practices of the 17 academic medical centers named to the 2002 US News & World Report's honor roll of "America's Best Hospitals." The researchers, all DMS faculty and members of the VA Outcomes Group in White River Junction, VT, interviewed each center's marketing department and obtained all non-research-related print advertisements distributed by the honor roll centers during 2002.

They found that while 16 of the 17 academic medical centers advertise to attract patients, none have a formal process for reviewing the ads to assure balance and straightforwardness. Of the 122 ads that were aimed at attracting patients, the most common marketing strategy involved an emotional appeal to evoke feelings of fear, hope, or anxiety about a health risk. The researchers also found that several of the advertisements promoted tests or services whose health benefits are unclear, such as full body CT scans, and all but one of the ad
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Contact: Andy Nordhoff
MedNews@Dartmouth.edu
603-650-1492
Dartmouth Medical School
28-Mar-2005


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