Health Care Marketers’ Critical Role in Reducing Health Care Stigma

December 14, 2022

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Lung Association found success by focusing on the positive.

// By Cheryl L. Serra //

Cheryl L. SerraIf you’re embarrassed by your medical diagnosis, you will probably keep it hidden. You may not seek help, or if you do, you may find under-the-radar, less-credentialed and less-qualified people. You likely won’t talk about your condition with others in your social circles, further limiting the availability of helpful resources and information you receive. Your medical care will likely suffer.

An often undiscussed symptom of many conditions is the stigma attached to them that results in secrecy and shame around the diagnoses. Some of these include mental health and substance abuse issues, and smoking-related lung cancer.

Two marketing professionals in these fields recently discussed “How Health Care Marketers Can Impact Stigma” during the annual conference of the Society for Health Care Strategy & Market Development (SHSMD) in September.

Dan Jason, director of marketing and communications for the American Lung Association, and Melissa Fors Shackelford, vice president of marketing at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, offered guidance for marketing-stigmatized conditions. Their recommendations include:

  • Building trust by marketing ethically
  • Using person-centered language
  • Focusing on success rather than the diagnosis
  • Focusing on positive imagery vs. reinforcing negative stereotypes.

Read on to see examples of successful campaigns and learn how you can adapt these principles to your organization.


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