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January 9, 2012 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 1

HEALTH: Healthcare and Advertising - Think For Yourself!

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Up until this point my blog posts have been all positive and uplifting - indeed, for the most part I am an upbeat sort of person. Unfortunately though, it IS difficult in society today to remain unjaded and I guess that struggle finally hit me this week. 

I had purchased tickets to the symphony a couple months ago, leaving my phone number. "Just in case there's a problem with the purchase." the cashier told me.

Since then, I was called four times by our city's symphony.

Each time points about how wonderful the symphony was were shot out at lightning speed, interspersed of course, with requests that I buy tickets. Certainly, this was not what I had in mind when I handed over my number. I KNEW the symphony was wonderful, after all I HAD just been there!

The phone assault got me thinking about the way we make decisions today.

How many times each day are you exposed to influences that pull you in a certain direction?  Turn on the television.  It is estimated that the average American child views 20,000 30-second TV commercials per year.  Take a drive anywhere.  The highways are jammed with billboards. It sometimes seems that we are neither expected to think for ourselves nor make autonomous decisions about what we consume.

In regards to our health, things are no different.

There was a time, decades ago, when it was considered unethical for a doctor or a hospital to advertise in any way."Word of mouth" was the means for building a reputation. It's a simple concept - do a good job and people will come. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, competition and insecurity prevailed. Now, the healthcare field is one of the biggest advertisers out there. Billboards tout, "we care," but I'd much rather hear it from someone who's been cared for.

Are patients even decision-makers in the eyes of healthcare business anymore? 

A  general lack of humility is a somewhat shameful tradition among doctors, but we all would do well to remember the value of a patient's own experience. I may have read a lot of medical books and undergone a lot of schooling, but I can admit that not everything is written in the books.

If a patient says to me, "I tried it, it is not harming me and it works." My response is, "If it works for you, it works for me."

On the same note, I would encourage you all, as patients to seek out friends and family with a positive experience before choosing a specialist physician.While good doctors will chose a specialist selectively for their particular expertise within their field as well as their bedside manner, imagine having a doctor who was arbitrarily chosen for you for performing a delicate surgery on you. They exist, and some even have billboards. 

Find a doctor you can trust, but also maintain your autonomy as a consumer.

Advertising is ubiquitous and it's not going away anytime soon. So, then, what can we do? 

Affirm your determination and your autonomy. You are a thinking, rational person. Protect yourself from blind influence.  Understand bias, educate and judge for yourself. Before consuming a product, read the reviews of others. In fact, my advice? Avoid advertised television or use technology to fast forward through the commercials! 

In the advertisers defense, I do realize that companies need to make people aware of their services. So why not get the word out by getting into the community and helping the public?

Recently, advertising by pharmaceutical companies has been more public service announcement about the disease state than an ad for their product which helps it. These "talk to your doctor" ads are a step in the right direction. And finally, I must commend Hellolife for providing this website aimed at bringing people together to improve health and wellness.

Maybe my local symphony could follow suit and bringing their music to the community, rather than blind calling in the evening?

At any rate, give consideration to the "symphony" of your life and health. Enjoy it as you see fit. Make it your own and guard it carefully.


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  • Couldn't agree more Dr. V...autonomy is a lost art.

  • "So why not get the word out by getting into the community and helping the public?"
    This is a trend occurring in major cities. It's a form of guerrilla advertising, but its much more cost and labor intensive than a billboard, or standard TV ad (minus Superbowl).

    If companies want more advertising in this manner they need to pay more or Agencies need to find ways to achieve the results for less costs. Also people need to take the steps you listed above about utilizing reviews and educating them selves. "Word of mouth" isn't dead. It's just been changed to a confirmation tool instead of th4e initial seller.

    The quickest way to get rid of this bombardment advertising style is to make it worthless. I don't know why you allowed them to call you for times. After the first call I would have said take my number off your list. The changes in advertising is coming so just be patient. The age of Social and Guerrilla has begun. Want proof, Look what success Oreo's tweet during Superbowl blackout accomplished.

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