Banning hospital advertising could increase readmissions, study finds

In response to ongoing discussions about a potential ban on hospital advertising, a new study suggests that putting an end to hospital ads could disrupt patient flow and, ultimately, lead to an increase in readmissions.

Proponents of the ban argue that advertising contributes to the spread of misinformation and is not an effective use of hospitals' limited budgets. The study, published Aug. 8 in the journal Marketing Science, however, concluded that hospital ads do in fact have a positive influence on many patients.

The study's authors analyzed 220,000 patient visits in Massachusetts between September 2008 and August 2010. They found that hospitals that spent more on advertising offered a higher quality of care and fewer readmissions, with a cyclical effect: As these already high-quality hospitals continue to attract even more patients using ads, they contribute to overall improvements in population health.

"Our research found that banning hospital advertising can negatively affect population health outcomes by increasing hospital readmissions within 30 days. A blanket ban on hospital advertising can lead to an additional 1.2 hospital readmissions for every 100 hospital discharges," study author Tongil Kim, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at Atlanta-based Emory University, said in a statement.

Dr. Kim continued, "In short, we found that when you inhibit a hospital’s ability to attract new patients, you also negatively impact patient flow, and you contribute to an increase in hospital readmissions."

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