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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Advertising Occupational Therapy

Published March 24, 2014 3:42 PM by Debra Karplus

I flipped on the television last night and there was a commercial for a local nursing and rehabilitation facility. The commercial specifically mentioned OT as well as the other therapies (physical therapy and speech therapy) and showed an attractive therapist in uniform (or an actress portraying a therapist), assisting a patient (or an  actor portraying a patient), climbing stairs presumably in a therapy clinic (or possibly on a set).  Probably I've seen that ad, and others just like it before, but this time I took notice, and it sparked the motivation to further explore the idea and practice of advertising occupational therapy on television.

If you've been around for a while, you may remember that before President Richard Nixon signed legislation banning cigarette ads on TV in 1970. There were numerous tobacco ads, many incorporated into the TV shows themselves, which were often filmed live. In the four decades since then, TV commercials have changed greatly.  They are certainly bolder and gutsier and more controversial, as are television shows in general.

There appear to be an increasing number of TV advertisements for a broad spectrum of healthcare related concerns.

For the past several decades, viewers have been able to watch ads for all sorts of prescription medications for various physical and emotional maladies, such as those for depression, products for women's issues, and in the more recent years, ads for "men's problems", many of which are considered marginal in terms of being "family friendly." I don't watch much TV to assess if certain ads or types of ads are concentrated during specific times of the day.

According to marketingcharts.com, adults over the age of sixty-five watch the most television. But, the ages most influenced by television are people fifteen to seventeen, twenty-five to thirty- four, and forty-five to fifty-four ).  It makes me a bit curious.

What is the impact of advertising occupational therapy on television? The ads simply mention occupational therapy but do not explain or describe what it is; and the TV images don't give any more of a clue either. Maybe this makes "occupational therapy" more of a "household word," but doesn't help a potential consumer know if it is a service that might benefit them.  People over sixty-five are watching the most TV, according to the marketing study and may coincidentally be the largest population served by OTs, but according to the statistic, they are least influenced by what they see on television.

Does seeing occupational therapy on a TV commercial demean it to the status of sugary breakfast cereal, amusements parks,or chia pets?  Or does it allow viewers to passively learn of OT in a subconscious way, tucked away in some remote pocket of their brain for future use?  Perhaps a doctoral student has or will research both the positive and negative impact of commercials that mention occupational therapy with data representing specific populations who respond favorably to these TV ads.

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