A Healthcare Marketing Ethics Primer from SHSMD

There’s little question that healthcare has become more competitive in recent years.  Health systems are extending their reach and building new facilities across the street from competitors. Organizations are marketing services regionally that were once marketed locally.

In short, healthcare organizations are acting more like businesses.

And healthcare marketing and advertising has become more aggressive.  A fact that is particularly astounding since as little as 20 years ago healthcare organizations did almost no advertising.

Given the special role played by healthcare provider organizations , they have a certain obligation to maintain the highest possible standards of moral and ethical conduct in marketing and communications – just as they do in all other aspects of business.  Still, it’s hard to avoid potential issues.

Sometimes the urge comes from wanting to make the organization shine, while other times it comes in the form of pressure from physicians or others in the organization.  On occasion, competitors push the line too far and the inclination to retaliate is hard to avoid.

Healthcare marketers need a  set of guiding principles to point to when ethical choices may not be clear, or to provide as a reference point to back up a “no” that needs to be delivered to a powerful stakeholder in the organization.

Fortunately, the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) has put together such a document: SHSMD Advisory: Principles and Practices for Marketing Communications in Hospitals and Health Systems (PDF).  A companion webinar describing the Advisory will be held on December 8th (free for SHSMD members, $99 for non-members).

The Advisory sets out core principles that span specific communications channels, such as

  • First, Best and Only: Use claims that can be substantiated (the hospital is the first to offer something, the best at offering something or the only one to offer it)
  • No Fear: Never use fear to promote healthcare services
  • Real Patients: Never invent fake patients in your marketing efforts without clearly disclosing that fact

The Advisory also addresses particular issues that many healthcare marketers find challenging — such as the use of awards, endorsements, physicians and social media in marketing efforts.

I encourage you to review the Advisory and evaluate how you might utilize it within your organization.  It’s important to maintain the highest levels of credibility in healthcare organizations, even as we operate in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Disclaimer: This post reflects my personal thoughts and opinions.  It does not represent any official position of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) or the American Hospital Association (AHA).

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This entry was posted in Best Practices, Industry Trends by Ben Dillon. Bookmark the permalink.
Ben Dillon

About Ben Dillon

Ben’s a big picture type of guy. He loves sharing new ideas in digital marketing, keeping a watchful eye on healthcare industry trends and seeing how it all intersects. A sought-after speaker, writer, blogger and current SHSMD board member, Ben’s an influential voice in healthcare marketing, helping organizations across the country embrace online strategies to engage health consumers. Combine his industry savvy with his background in software development and you can see why he’s also an important member of Geonetric’s software team, ensuring our content management system stays a step ahead of market needs. Ben holds a master’s degree in eBusiness and strategic management from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. When he’s not traveling and evangelizing, Ben enjoys cooking with his family and playing the Big House with the University of Michigan Alumni marching band.

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