Blog #52 Andrew Siegel, M.D.
The image above is a billboard that I photographed on Route 4 in New Jersey, advertising kidney transplantation at St. Barnabas Hospital. Now people, come on—if any of us ever need a kidney transplant, are we really going to pick our transplantation center based upon a billboard ad situated above a gas station and a Dunkin’ Donuts?
As I continued driving east on Route 4, I couldn’t help but see—or shall I say, be assaulted by—a huge electronic billboard, its flickering colored pixels advertising the merits of one of the local hospitals. The subject matter changed every few seconds, the slide show shifting to the faces of local physicians, some of whom I know and others whom I don’t know.
I don’t care for any type of billboard insulting my visual field, much preferring nature, trees, and mountains as background, although there is not much of that in congested Northern New Jersey. Although I am generally not amused by billboard ads, every once in a while a clever one from Kenneth Cole on the West Side Highway in Manhattan will draw a chuckle from me. Aside from billboards being downright unsightly, they also can be real distractions, particularly the electronic ones that change images every few seconds. Anything that distracts us from focusing on the road ahead is clearly not good.
In general, I am not very fond of traditional advertising for the medical field, whether it is print, radio or television; in particular, I harbor contempt and disrespect for billboard ads for doctors and hospitals. I would never never ever ever choose a doctor or hospital on the basis of a billboard advertisement. In fact, this style affronts me to the extent that I would actively avoid seeing a physician who resorts to this means of garnering new patients. Medical billboard ads just rub me the wrong way—there is something unprofessional, distasteful, unseemly, obnoxious, sleazy, and undignified about it. Furthermore, advertising is downright costly—every time I look at these ads I think about how many other ways those resources could be more responsibly allocated, particularly with health care dollars getting scarcer and scarcer.
In my humble opinion, the best means of finding a capable doctor is via a referral from a person whose opinion you respect—that person may be a physician, nurse or health care worker whom you trust, or alternatively, a family member, friend or colleague. The latter group, who have had experience with a physician but can’t necessarily render an opinion about their capabilities and knowledge as well as health care workers might be able to, at least can attest to their style, manner and communication skills.
Whenever I see a new patient, I inquire about how they found their way to my office. Most commonly, it is a referral from another physician or patient. Recently, I have noticed that I am getting more patients from cyberspace, since I have created an abundance of patient education materials including 40 or so videos on YouTube and numerous articles posted on my medical practice website. Last week, I had a husband and wife come in as new patients. I saw the wife first and inquired as to their means of finding me as a physician. She related that her husband was a member of the jury involved in a medical malpractice case in which I testified and that he was sufficiently impressed with my testimony such that he made a mental note that if he ever needed urological care I was the man!
Back to my sentiments on billboard advertising: I think I get it: seeing images of ourselves strokes our narcissistic tendencies, and doctors—some of whom possess rather substantial egos—may just relish driving down the highway and see themselves photo-shopped and smiling. I am not sure if billboard advertising is cost effective or if it is a successful tool to find new patients, but I suspect that it is not.
There are many more tasteful, subtle and nuanced ways a physician or hospital can display themselves to the public. It can be done via public outreach educational seminars, participation or sponsorship in screening events and the creation of educational materials including brochures, booklets, books, online videos, and blogging. But the best advertisement for a given physician or hospital is the patient who has been treated competently, respectfully and honestly. That patient will go back to his or her primary care physician grateful for the referral. Furthermore, that satisfied patient will become an advocate and will recommend the physician or hospital to family members, friends and colleagues. A busy doctor’s office or fully occupied hospital happens on the basis of “walking the walk and not on talking the talk.” No need for medical personnel and hospitals to wallow in the sleazy and grotesque world of oversized publicity.
Andrew Siegel, M.D.
Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food
Now available on Amazon Kindle