Friday, July 24, 2015

Hospital Advertising

Some years ago I participated in a discussion of marketing strategy at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston.  I mentioned that many patients came to that institution because they believed it offered the best chance for a good outcome.  I asked if they were correct, suggesting that if they were, their belief could be an effective marketing theme.

After a rather embarrassed silence, one of the physicians said that they did not know, but that they should.

Well, they now know more than they did.  I’ve received a document from the Hospital titled “A pledge from New England Baptist, your Orthopedic Hospital.”  After some narrative describing the hospital’s dedication to quality care, there are three pages of quality-related statistics.

Some of it is a little opaque, including a number described as “Statistical Prediction of Infection” attributed to a Massachusetts CY2013 HA/Data Report and something called Post-op DVT, which is undefined.  So there is room for improvement, but the accomplishment is real.

The hospital has good reason to be proud of its numbers.  However, it has not gone so far as to include them in its advertising, so far as I know.  Fifty years ago it was considered unethical for a hospital to advertise at all.  That is no longer the case, but there seems still to be a reticence to make overt claims to clinical superiority.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Primary Care

I haven’t said it for a long time, so I’ll say it again.  If medicine was a science, there would be no need for doctors.  If one could stick a finger a machine and learn the diagnosis and best treatment, there would be little or nothing for anybody else to do.  But no such machine exists yet so doctors learn what science and technology can tell them and then resolve uncertainties and choose among alternative courses of action.

It seems to me to follow that since science and technology can tell much more than they could in the past, there is less for doctors to do and we should need fewer of them.

The matter arises specifically in the case of primary care.  The June 23 issue of The Boston Globe carried a rather lengthy article on the subject, titled Precarious future for primary care.  The article discussed the difficulties of recruiting physicians into primary care, given that the specialties pay better and can be less demanding.

In my last two ER experiences (nothing serious, only bothersome complaints at inconvenient hours) I learned during the visit that I was being seen not by a doctor but in one case by a nurse practitioner and in the other by a physician’s assistant.  In both cases my concern was properly addressed and I was completely satisfied by the service. 

Adding to that a reflection on what goes on during my unexciting, periodically scheduled routine visits to my regular primary care physician causes me to wonder whether we really need physicians for most primary care at all. 

Primary care physicians graduate from college, go to medical school for four years and then undertake two or three years of residency.  According to the article, the average salary of a physician in family practice is $196,000 per year.  There may well be a goodly number of people who could be trained to carry out the function satisfactorily in a shorter period of time and who would be happy to work for a lower salary.

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