Hospital advertising can make us sick with worry

Hospital advertising can make us sick with worry

My recent visit to a private hospital was a stressful experience as I was bombarded by aggressive advertising campaigns for the hospital's healthcare services.

While waiting for a receptionist to check the room number of a relative who was admitted, I came face-to-face with an advertising banner for their healthcare service that read: "Do you know that smoking is a sign of psychiatric illness?" Going to the elevator, I found another banner that read: "Osteoporosis is a silent threat. The elderly are at risk of osteoporosis. To measure bone density, go to the radiology department and X-ray unit."

Another sign at the elevator door read: "Blurred vision, eye strain. The symptoms are serious. You are at risk of cataracts and the hospital's telephone numbers are given at the signs below."

Another one read: "Ever experienced a heart attack? Consult the emergency heart unit that offers coronary balloon angioplasty and stents, as well as bypass surgery." This emotional sign also came with a picture of a man experiencing chest pain and suffering a heart attack. These are just some advertising signs throughout the hospital.

Personally, I don't think these aggressive advertising campaigns (all in the Thai language) encourage potential patients to purchase these healthcare services. On the other hand, the messages on the banners are very intimidating.

Potential patients are uniquely different customers from those on the lookout for, say, a computer notebook. They are an older mother-to-be who is looking for an attentive and skilful obstetrician who is able to ensure that they are in safe hands over the nine months, or a mother of two children who has a lump in her breast and is looking for a specialist who gives her hope, or a son whose mother has suffered a fractured bone and is looking for a doctor who can offer his mother less invasive surgery option with fewer complications.

A banner also advertised their high-quality healthcare services, saying their bone and joint centre is one of the best of its kind in the country.

Quality is very difficult to measure as patients tend to make decisions about their medical treatment based on the skills and the goodwill of a doctor or healthcare provider. They want to share how happy they are that their mother successfully underwent hip-fracture surgery, or how nervous they are when their father was admitted after a stroke. They are not clinically comparing functions between models as a computer notebook-buyer would. A hospital should look to establish a real connection with potential patients and be empathetic about their care rather than just offering information about healthcare services. In other words, it's about building trust and reliability.

In the advertisements, the messages are more than just educating the public on the availability of healthcare services. They play to the emotions of patients. Some of them are likely to take advantage of patients' ignorance and vulnerability. For example, blurred vision and eye strain can result from many things in addition to cataracts. It can be caused by sitting in front of a computer screen for a long period of time. Giving insufficient information about a medical condition may lead potential patients make poor decisions about their treatment or health maintenance, or even seek unnecessary treatment. Patients in a healthcare facility are often deeply emotional and uncertain about their health and safety. They are vulnerable.

The physical environment within a hospital's stark white walls can be a frightening place. It's where traumatic events take place. It's not difficult to understand that visiting a hospital can be chilling to many. A hospital itself is enough to frighten visitors and the messages on the advertisements can turn a bad thing worse, and can even make a simple visit to the place into an unnecessarily stressful situation.

I used an entrance at the back of the hospital on my return trip to give me a distraction from the manipulative messages. On my way home, the idea of making an appointment with a doctor to have a blood test occupied my mind. According to the ambiguous messages on the hospital's advertisements, I am at risk of medical conditions. Encountering this aggressive healthcare advertising campaign was heart-thumping for me _ a simple visit to a hospital turned into an unhappy occasion.

Sukhumaporn Laiyok is a feature writer for Life at the Bangkok Post.

Sukhumaporn Laiyok

Life reporter

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