Handbook of Health Communication

By Teresa L. Thompson; Alicia M. Dorsey et al. | Go to book overview

24
Health as Profit: Public
Relations in Health
Communication
Jeffrey K. Springston
University of Georgia
Ruth Ann Weaver Lariscy

Public relations is a powerful force in society and an essential component of our economy. This is particularly evident in the $400,000 billion plus health care industry where most medical services—from physician care to hospital stays, to pharmaceutical sales and health insurance—function in a highly competitive environment. In the wide breadth of forprofit health organizations—HMOs, hospitals, nursing homes, pharmaceutical companies, medical clinics, and health-science research centers to name a few—strong need exists for the broadly based, issues-oriented public relations strategic function. While public relations is vital to both for-profit and not-for-profit health care organizations, this chapter focuses on the role of advocacy messages and campaigns in the for-profit sector of health communication.


DEFINING AND DISTINGUISHING

Before examining the role of for-profit health care public relations, it is important to first clarify terms. Much understandable confusion exists regarding how public relations, marketing, and advertising are similar and how they differ. These terms are often referred to synonymously, and indeed there are many situations in which they overlap, especially in the for-profit sector. However, there are important fundamental differences between the three functions.

Under ideal circumstances, both public relations and marketing are part of an organization's strategic management. Both functions deal with messages and media, public opinion, and segmentation of audiences or “publics. ” A primary distinction between marketing and public relations, however, is in how publics come to exist. In marketing, publics are typically targeted and sought in order to achieve the goal of selling the organization's

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