Medical Advertising: Educational or Promotional?

Oct 23, 2012

Driving on I-84 in Hartford, have you seen a billboard from Hartford Hospital. It's the one that asks, "What’s scarier -- a colonoscopy or cancer?"

What’s the point of an ad like that? Does it inform us? Does it freak us out?

Rexford Santerre is a finance professor and healthcare management at the UConn School of Business. He says the ultimate test would be to see whether advertising improves our health.

But that’s pretty hard to do. So here’s how economists think about it.

“If advertising leads to higher prices and lower utilization, lower quality, then that’s the 'bad guy' theory," said Santerre. "But if advertising leads to lower prices, more utilization, and improved quality, then that’s the 'good guy' theory.”

Bad guys, good guys -- how does healthcare advertising affect the decisions you make? Are you going to run out and get a colonoscopy because a billboard says you should?

We’ll talk with hospital officials, the state’s health care advocate Victoria Veltri, Dr. Michael Krinsky from the Connecticut State Medical Society, and Phil Galewitz who is a reporter with Kaiser Health News.