This week’s issue of Advertising Age magazine dated June 28, 2010, includes cover stories about fast food advertising buoying cable TV revenues, car companies changing ad agencies, the Cannes advertising festival focusing on creativity and ROI, and…hospitals and health reform?

Why do hospitals and health reform appear on the cover page of Ad Age? It’s the “new front of medical marketing,” Rich Thomaselli, Ad Age editor, calls it.

With upwards of 30 million Americans gaining health insurance coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordability Act (PPACA, or “health reform” broadly writ), hospitals are competing for new business, along with aging baby boomers’ growing chronic disease burdens that require more complex medical management. Health providers have begun to target these potential patients through well-oiled and -funded marketing plans.

Ad Age points to national health brands like Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, Mass General and Memorial Sloan-Kettering as the leading spenders on health care promotion just a few column inches away from Cadillac’s, Chrysler’s and Mazda’s advertising plans.

Welcome to another permutation of retail health care: Ned Russell of Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness notes, “the health-care business is developing its own destination segment,” where geography isn’t a barrier to Americans’ taste for top-drawer health care. What these providers are selling is disease-specific centers of excellence.

Kantar Media calculated that Cleveland Clinic increased ad spending from $3.9 million to $8.5 million between 2008 and 2009 — a 118% increase in a single year.

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  Health reform is a new driver for big brand name health providers that have begun to re-position themselves for an expanded health citizenry. The new word-of-mouth is happening via online social networks which, of course, go beyond local newspapers and radio stations. Twitter, in particular, has grown in use among big hospitals, which Ad Age points out. Even the oldest hospitals are using Twitter — like the Mayo Clinic, which celebrates its 121st birthday this year. Lee Aase runs Syndications and Social Media for the Mayo Clinic and tweets under his own name, @leeaase (BTW, Lee was one of the Tweeters I began to follow when I first joined Twitter).

The point is that just as other stakeholders in health who market direct-to-consumer — like over-the-counter medicine manufacturers, prescription drug companies, and health plans — hospitals and other retail health providers need to incorporate online and mobile promotion channels with traditional channels to integrate messages and touch consumers across many points of communications and at many life moments.

The 2010 Edelman Health Engagement Barometer found that information alone won’t motivate a health consumer to engage-in-health. It takes information PLUS a “life moment” PLUS a “care connection” to a friend or loved one to deeply engage in health. Hospitals, which have strong community connections locally, should be able to leverage these “care connections” even more effectively than some of the more traditional-DTC marketers in health like health insurance and drug companies do. How national hospital brands will be able to convert a heart patient from, say, Tulsa, into an inpatient in Cleveland or Rochester remains to be seen. But the New Retail in Health is here, so expect hospital ads to broadcast alongside wireless phone, car and fast food commercials during the 6 o’clock news.