Study: Ads communicate that a hospital has deep pockets, not necessarily quality care

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Health systems' advertisements usually communicate to patients that they provide top quality care, but viewers can sometimes understand these messages to simply mean the health system has extra money to spend on marketing, according to a study published July 2 in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers from New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University and the Congressional Budget Office sought to answer the question: "Are higher-performing hospitals more likely to advertise their services directly to consumers?"

They found the answer is no. 

The study's sample included an average of 4,569 general acute care hospitals per year between 2008 and 2016. The research team found that 49 percent of them advertised their services to consumers and spent a total of $3.39 billion. The researchers could not find a clear link between advertising and objective performance measures, but they found that hospitals that advertised usually had more net assets and revenue.

"The results of this cross-sectional study suggest that advertising is not an effective means to inform consumers about quality; instead, it may mislead consumers and undermine, not complement, public reporting efforts," the researchers wrote.

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