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UPMC campaigns on patients' willingness to travel

| Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
UPMC will use  unveil a yearlong advertising campaign that spotlights a grateful Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 15 other patients who traveled hundreds of miles to be treated by the hospital system’s doctors. Nascar's Earnhardt, who sought UPMC care for concussions as a race-car driver, offered his time at no charge, according to the nonprofit.
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UPMC will use unveil a yearlong advertising campaign that spotlights a grateful Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 15 other patients who traveled hundreds of miles to be treated by the hospital system’s doctors. Nascar's Earnhardt, who sought UPMC care for concussions as a race-car driver, offered his time at no charge, according to the nonprofit.

UPMC will use the Steelers game on Sunday to release a yearlong advertising campaign that spotlights a grateful Dale Earnhardt Jr. and at least 15 other patients who traveled hundreds of miles to be treated by the hospital system's doctors.

The Downtown-based hospital network would not disclose the price of the campaign, which will target Western Pennsylvania audiences through 10 unscripted television commercials, billboards and printed advertisements, including in the Tribune-Review.

Spokesman Paul Wood said the campaign “has nothing to do with the Highmark battle,” in which UPMC is hoping to keep patients from rival Allegheny Health Network hospitals owned by the Downtown-based insurer.

Instead, Wood said the first commercials will coincide with an insurance enrollment period when many workers pick from employer-supplied health plans and the providers where they will have covered access. Many Highmark insurance members will lose in-network coverage at UPMC facilities when a contract between the companies expires at the end of the year.

“This has everything to do with making sure people understand they do have the choice. They have choices to make. Here are some people who could have chosen to go anywhere in the world. But they have chosen to go to UPMC,” Wood said.

Some ads will emphasize that 22,000 inpatients from outside UPMC's main 10-county service area received care last year at its eight hospitals in Allegheny County. Total inpatient volume at UPMC, including hospitals in Erie and Altoona, reached 287,000.

Allegheny Health Network estimated its five hospitals in Allegheny County treat nearly 13,000 inpatients a year from outside their main eight-county service area. The hospital system admits between 70,000 and 75,000 patients to its Allegheny County hospitals, which include flagship Allegheny General on the North Side.

Greensburg-based Excela Health would not disclose how many non-local patients it sees.

“It's been consistent over time,” said Excela spokeswoman Robin Jennings. She said some patients travel from other areas for the system's longer-term rehabilitative care.

Non-local patients at UPMC often travel for critical invasive procedures such as heart or brain surgery, or chronic diseases such as asthma, said chief medical officer Dr. Steven Shapiro.

“The reason people come here is because we have developed new techniques that we've pioneered, or we have doctors who are so spectacular, they have no complication rate with state-of-the-art surgical approaches,” Shapiro said.

He said the advertising will highlight highly regarded clinicians who have chosen to practice at UPMC.

They are not paid for their appearances, although many patients featured in the advertisements receive modest stipends in the $200 range for their time, said chief marketing officer Dean Walters.

Earnhardt, who sought UPMC care for concussions as a race-car driver, offered his time at no charge, according to the nonprofit. He appears in a commercial that's expected to air just before the third quarter in the CBS broadcast of the Sunday Steelers game against the Cleveland Browns.

Earnhardt says in the spot that he “didn't choose to be in a 25-car pile-up” — but he “did choose UPMC.”

“We're a national brand, and our commitment is really to our patients in Western Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said. “We know they're choosing us and they appreciate us, but I'm not sure they're aware really just what they're getting.”

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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