Hey friend, can I interest you in a lung transplant?

It’s no surprise to me that hospitals are starting to advertise high profit services on Google and Facebook. According to a Kaiser Health News piece, University of Pennsylvania Health System is trolling for lung transplant patients. Spending $20,000 generated 4,600 clicks, 36 appointments, and at least one prospective patient. With lung transplant revenue in the range of $100,000 per patient, even one patient may be enough to justify the media spend.

Some users are a bit wigged out when they realize that the ads are served up based on what they’ve searched for online or written about in their status. And of course critics are up in arms about over-diagnosis and treatment, especially when an academic medical center is involved.

But of course the main purpose of Google and Facebook is to segment customers for advertisers. Why else would they offer up all these services for free? And we shouldn’t be surprised to see academic medical centers go after patients –they do it all on the time with other media. Maximizing the uptake of profitable services is how they make ends meet and subsidize some of their other, more mission-oriented activities.

I’ve seen this coming for a long time, and in guises that are more insidious than anything mentioned in the article. Almost five years ago in What if Google finds out you have cancer before you do? I noted that ads for a drug used to reduce the risk of infection in chemo patients were popping upĀ alongsideĀ a friend’s searches. With a strong enough profit motive and the right technology and personal information, I’d expect to see a lot more diagnosis done this way.

July 17, 2012

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