Breathtaking: lung transplant service advertised on Facebook and Google

Breathtaking: lung transplant service advertised on Facebook and Google

Summary: Next to ads for local pizza delivery services on Facebook and Google, a health system in Pennsylvania is advertising a lung transplant service.

TOPICS: Health

Some days, I'm completely blown away by the advances we've made in medical science. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a technology that transports a still-beating heart over long distances until it reaches the intended transplant recipient.

See also: Heart-in-a-box: transporting a live, beating heart to transplant patients

That's why it's so disconcerting when the healthcare industry shows its more crass side. Take, for example, a $20,000 advertising campaign on Facebook and Google for ... wait for it ... a lung transplant service.

Yes, right next to the ad for local pizza delivery that shows up on the side of your Facebook wall, might well be an ad for lung transplants performed by the University of Pennsylvania Health System. After all, lung transplants are big money, netting the medical center $100,000 or more per procedure.

Hospitals and medical practitioners are governed by HITECH and HIPAA regulations, preventing them from sharing your confidential medical information with anyone without your approval. But if you've ever written to a friend or family member about deeply personal medical information using a keyword or phrase bought by one of the very same medical facilities, you might well be presented with a very personal advertisement.

Now, don't get me wrong. Advertising makes sites like ZDNet possible. Advertising also helps businesses sell products, employ people, and keep the engine of commerce turning. If you have a job, you may owe it -- in some obvious or distant way -- to advertising.

But do you think hospitals should be allowed to advertise procedures like lung transplants? And is displaying that information on your Facebook wall a violation of your privacy? Or is it just a startling lack of good taste? TalkBack below.

Topic: Health


Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.

Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

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  • Targeted advertising of Lung Transplant on Facebook

    Hi Denise!

    I don't know how comfortable, or uncomfortable I am with hospitals advertising procedures like lung transplant. I do know that far too many people, even some in the medical profession, are not aware that lung transplants are a possibility. In our lung transplant group at our hospital - we're always rather shocked when a recipient or candidate joins us, and explains that one of their doctors did not think to refer them for a lung transplant because, as far as they were aware, "that isn't being done..." Though often they appear to be much older physicians.

    You also mentioned that lung transplants are "big money" - I don't believe that's always the case. In fact, my understanding is that for many/most centers, it is a losing proposition maintained so that they have a full range of transplant services. I'm uncertain about University of Pennsylvania - I do not see them as a lung transplant center - Penn State transplants a number of organs, but I'm not sure about lungs - University of Pittsburgh is one of the higher volume lung transplant centers in the country. Because of their volume, and economics of scale and whatnot - they MAY have a higher net than most. But, just the fact that so few centers across the United States perform lung transplants is an indicator that it is not a profitable endeavor. I think if you look into this, particularly at some of the more moderate centers - you'll find that lung transplant is not as profitable as you've implied.

    I am also not completely comfortable with the idea that, should I write a personal message to a friend or family member and mention COPD, cystic fibrosis, emphysema or other similar issues, suddenly lung transplant advertisements pop up on my pages. But, I don't know how much less comfortable I am with that, than I am with automobile adds popping up when a note to someone indicates I'm in the market for a car, or destination/hotel adds popping up when I've used key words indicating I'm heading off on a vacation. I don't know that I see it as a lack of good taste - "good taste" seems to have a much broader definition than it did in years past. I do wonder what kind of dossier is being built on each of us without our knowledge - and how that dossier might be misunderstood or misused in the future.

    I have cystic fibrosis. I received two beautiful, new lungs just over 12 years ago. My lungs came from a beautiful, 17-year-old girl from Iowa, who told her family how strongly she felt about organ donation in the month before she passed. Twice. I'm very active in our lung transplant community and in the organ donation and translant community. I've met more than a dozen people who ultimately received lung transplants, who had no idea lung transplant was a possibility - until they were referred to physicians with a broader knowledge. The day after my transplant, in a restaurant on the hospital campus, my sister argued with another patron who told her that lungs could not be transplanted! If targeting advertising for other reasons is acceptable - I think I'm OK with targeting this advertising - if only to spread awareness, and let people know options may be available.


    Steve Ferkau
    Chicago, IL
    Steve Ferkau
    • Targeted advertising of Lung Transplant on Facebook

      Congratulations to Steve! I too am a double lung transplant recipient within the last year from UPMC. I had looked at Penn State also as they do offer lung transplants but, opted for the higher rated and closer facility for the optimum outcome. There are very few hospitals that do lung transplantation due to the complexity of the procedure. Also, a number of the facilities that offer lung transplant services have strict guidelines on acceptance into their program due to potential outcomes whereas other facilities, which are fewer in number even still, take a wider range of patients and a wider range of reasons for lung transplantation.

      I am concerned about how and what information may be collected about me and what misconceptions may be formed from that information. However, like Steve, if it increases the awareness of organ donation and the options that are available for people then I see my information as a help to others to be able to research options for their health. Research, ask questions, go if you can and see the facility, meet the team members, then, make your best informed decision for your health. If it is an ad that leads you to that location for research and a chance of further life, then wonderful!
      E Jane McCullors