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You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

December 27, 2014

When the US News and World Report annual rankings of Best US Hospitals came out, the area around my institution exploded with 8 foot high banners emblazoned with the USNWR logo.  Children’s Hospital, around the corner from where I work, had pretty much swept the top spots and it was not shy to make sure everyone knew it.  First in Cancer!  First in Cardiology!  First in Nephrology, Neurology, Endocrinology, Gastroenterology!

There has been plenty of controversy about how these rankings are established, and I won’t go into that here, although my own experience and those of people I know who work in these hospitals suggests a healthy skepticism for them is in order. But did you know that the hospital pays USNWR for the privilege of advertising said rankings?  Here’s Tony Leys in the spring issue of HealthBeat the newsletter of the Association for Health Care Journalism: “Consumers should know that hospitals pay substantial fees for permission to run ads about awards they receive from services such as Healthgrades, USNWR, and the Leapfrog Group”.

Well, how much money we talkin’ about here?  It’s classified.  Here’s a spokeswoman for USNWR:  “We do not release pricing information for licensing programs, because it is proprietary information.”  It is?  Companies call things “proprietary” when they want to keep them secret, usually because they derive some financial benefit from doing so.  What is to be gained by making the price of advertising secret?  So Healthgrades doesn’t undercut them?  (Healthgrades VP Evan Marks wouldn’t tell what his company charges either).  They can charge whatever they want and hospitals will pay.  My impression companies can decide anything is proprietary, meaning they can say “we own this, and you can’t have it”.  Can you own pricing information?  Are hospital charges also proprietary?  They would certainly like to think so.  But where does the money the hospitals are paying USNWR and others come from?  Us.  Taxes.  Co-pays.  Insurance premiums.  Bills.  Shouldn’t the push for hospital charging transparency include advertising?

To go back to the financial incentives.  Have you ever wondered why USNWR has so many categories?  Do you think USNWR is doing a public service because it loves America, or providing the rankings merely for boosting readership?  More awards means more advertising fees.  If you go to the USNWR hospital rankings website, an advertisement immediately interrupts the visitor touting the virtues of the Mayo Clinic.  Yep, the Mayo cleaned up in the ratings in a big way.

Tony Leys again: ” …The point of the healthcare ratings movement is supposed to be transparency.  The fact that some of the companies have opaque relationships with the hospitals they’re rating adds a cloud to the process.”  Indeed.


From → Healthcare

One Comment
  1. Dang good post. Considering I have been “shut down” because I’ve exposed a FOIA’ed police call, makes you wonder about “transparency” in medicine.

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