Just recently, while waiting in my ob-gyn’s exam room, I noticed heartfelt, pink posters which said, “Are you concerned about your thinning lips? Fine lines around your eyes?” Honesty, I was there for health care, but when it was mentioned, should I be concerned?
At home, the marketing continued. I received not just one, but three emails letting me know that National Botox Day is November 17. Who knew? The exclamation-filled email was downright uplifting, “Linda…Enjoy Our Biggest Discount of the Year, 50% Off!!!” Before this email, I always thought of November as National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, a good time to talk to family about what matters to you in life. What a total reframing. Why talk about aging when you can stop it in its tracks? At least that’s what my doctor was telling me.
It isn’t just my ob-gyn. My dermatologist was doing this also. She was kind enough to remind me that I am getting older — and offered me a $150 Virtual Cosmetic Consult to discuss my skincare concerns, which her office imagined to be, “Anti-Aging, Discoloration, Uneven Pigmentation, and much more.” And to think I was worried about skin cancer. But National Skin Cancer Awareness month isn’t until May, not that anyone sent me an email reminder about it.
Aside from accentuating the insecurities we may all feel after a day on Zoom, the barrage of advertisements, both in their office and at home, makes me feel less like a patient and more like a target. This kind of marketing chips away at the trust I have in these physicians, especially when they send unsolicited advertisements to my personal email, which I shared with them for medical purposes.
At the very least, physicians who bombard their patients with advertisements for aesthetic procedures are not prioritizing their patients’ self-esteem and best interests. I understand that a range of physicians provide cosmetic procedures and that some of their patients want and appreciate access to these treatments. But there is a difference between providing a cosmetic procedure that a patient has asked for and marketing a medically unnecessary procedure to all your patients, including those more worried about the results of their pap smear than the lines across their forehead.
Some specialty societies seem to agree. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a Statement of Policy that implies the professional organization frowns on these practices. The Policy, in part, says “[i]nquiries regarding aesthetic products and services must come from the patient, and the patient should feel no pressure or obligation to purchase or undergo any aesthetic services.” The policy is circling close to the issue of a physician’s powers of persuasion over her patients. Is the trusted physician responding to a patient’s request for information and advice or selling them a non-medical treatment they never asked for? To me, this is an important ethical distinction.
Perhaps some physicians believe this is the only way they can stay in business, and financial pressures are driving this aggressive advertising towards patients. If so, this is another example of the failure of our fee-for-service system that rewards procedures and volume over patient engagement. What troubles me most is the longer term impact these marketing campaigns may have on the patient-physician relationship. Please share your thoughts, or related experiences, with us. Your input helps our work to improve the health care system for everyone.