The scene is shadowy, and the background music foreboding. On the TV screen, a stream of beleaguered humans stand in an unending line.
“If you’re waiting patiently for a liver transplant, it could cost you your life,” warns the narrator.
One man pulls another out of the queue, signaling an escape. Both smile.
Is this a dystopian video game? Gritty drama? Neither. It is a commercial for the living-donor liver transplant center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, an academic hospital embroiled in a high-profile battle with the region’s dominant health plan and now making a play to a national audience.
Hospitals are using TV spots like this one to attract lucrative patients into their hospitals as health care costs and industry competition escalate. Some institutions use them to build national and international brands on niche but high-priced health services. They’re often procedures involving expensive technology that benefit only a sliver of the population. But they could lure wealthy patients seeking high-end care and can also give hospitals some leverage with insurers.