On May 31st, which happened to be the World No Tobacco Day, I was holidaying in Kashmir, when I received a strange sms. Since I had decided not to carry my mobile phone on my vacation, I saw it only once I returned to Delhi.
The message, which I reproduce verbatim said ‘On the occasion of the World No Tobacco Day Artemis offers Lung CT at Rs. 1500 only. Offer valid only for My 31 2009 only. For registrations, please call’.
Needless to say that I was quite shocked. This is exactly the kind of lazy and insensitive marketing communication that puts off consumers from hospitals and makes them extremely suspicious of hospital communications.
I am 37 years old, have never smoked in my life, enjoy good health, underwent a health check 9 months ago and no one in my family had suffered from cancer, which I assume the Lung CT is meant to screen me for. Moreover the hospital is aware of most of this as they were my employers till less thyan a year ago! The message that I really get is that this hospital is so desperate for lung cancer patients that it is sending out these messages to everyone in its database and is hoping that some will bite the offer. This is crass commercialism of the worst kind- a hospital sending out offers for an expensive test, trying to persuade gullible lay individuals to undergo a test they do not need. Can we really blame customers, when they say that they do not trust private hospitals in India?
Let us now assume that I am vulnerable to lung cancer, I smoke like a chimney, have a family history of the disease and am in the age group, where these cancers are commonly detected. Is this communication inviting me to register for a CT, now justified? I am afraid not. CT scan is an advanced test. It involves a very high dose of radiation and is not a screening modality to be offered to patients so casually. I would even go further and state that it is completely unethical for hospitals to ask individuals to register for these kind of tests, without any clear symptom or indication that this test is required.
Now, if I was keen to communicate the hospital’s desire to screen people for lung cancer I would have devised a promotion, which offered a basic consult with a chest physician and a screening X-Ray free. I would have also added that if the physician felt the need for a CT, the same could be had for Rs. 1500. I would have also indicated that this offer is for people who are let us say 40 years and above,smoke and who have had cancer in their family.
While, this may seem acceptable from a patient’s perspective, Artemis Health Institute, would have had a hard time executing this simply because the chest physician would have baulked at the idea of working on a Sunday and seeing people without a fee. Moreover the free X-Ray would have been a drain as X-Ray machine is well utilised and needs no promotion. Thus the greedy shortcut of asking individuals to register for a CT scan even though it clearly is neither in the interest of the patient nor is it medically justified.
Now the real big question- will you trust this hospital ?
Pic courtesy http://www.flickr.com
I have taken inputs from some senior physicians, while writing this post.