Austin Answered: Why do Central Texas hospitals advertise on TV?

Updated Oct 06, 2017
  • By Anusha Lalani
  • American-Statesman Staff

Everyone knows where the nearest hospital is and even if they don’t, they’re taken to the closest one by ambulance. So why do hospitals advertise themselves on television?

When we answered this reader-submitted question, we found that the main idea behind hospital advertising is it’s good for business.

“There are different hospital systems in Austin,” said Mike Mackert, associate professor at the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Texas. “If you are Seton or St. David’s or whoever it might be, you think you deliver the best care, you probably think you deliver the most efficient care, and you want to make sure people know that and go to the right place.”

Mackert, who is also director of UT’s Center for Health Communication, said the message behind the advertising usually done by hospitals involves humanizing the hospital so patients feel more cared for, rather than “just a number” to the hospital. Mackert also said the advertisements typically involve hospitals showcasing their performance to establish a sense of trust in the consumers.

“You certainly see that as a very common message,” Mackert said. “Hospitals tend to tout the specialties where they’re ranked the highest to kind of promote their very best services, but also have a little halo effect that makes people think, ‘Well, they’re the best in this, so they must be the best in everything,’ sort of idea.”

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Advertising for local hospitals doesn’t always mean more patients will come to that specific hospital, Mackert said. Some visits to the hospital are unplanned and the patients are taken to the nearest hospital, especially if they are unconscious.

However, Mackert said advertising can have an effect on patients who are trying to find the best care for planned visits or follow-up care.

“There are times where I think people do try to make really informed decisions on, ‘Oh, I need heart surgery, I want to look at Seton versus the Heart Hospital of Austin,’” he said. “So, in some cases, the advertising could help people know there is a Heart Hospital of Austin.”

Although there isn’t a specific time of the year when local hospitals advertise the most, Mackert said some hospitals might advertise during flu season so more people get vaccinated.

He also noted a common trend in advertising found at practices that specialize in urology.

“Almost every year there are news stories about how urology practices purposefully do advertising about vasectomies right before March Madness,” Mackert said. “They’ve got this idea of, ‘If you need to get this surgery, make your recovery a day or two days of watching the NCAA basketball tournament.’”

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