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On occasion, complex systems crumble because of a single defective part, a part no one anticipated.

The space shuttle Challenger is a case in point.

What happened? O-rings failed at 31 degrees, the temperature at Cape Canaveral at launch.  That led to a cascade of badness which resulted in the Challenger exploding. Some at NASA were concerned but they were overruled. So, one of the main problems which caused the disaster was organizational, and not merely technical.

Which brings me to marketing campaigns on healthcare websites.

Yes, that was quite a leap for man and mankind.

This past weekend, I was at a conference where the conversation turned to virtual phone numbers that are used to measure the success of marketing campaigns. One web page will have a certain offer tied to a specific phone number. Another web page will have a different offer tied to a different phone number. All of these phone numbers ring at the same office. But, calls can be tracked. By identifying which phone number the patient used, the practice can make conclusions about which web page (and which offer) is delivering the best results.

One practice said a patient put a marketing campaign phone number in their smart phone. Months later she had surgery. She had a problem post-op. She kept calling the number she had inserted in her smart phone; a number that no longer worked. The marketing campaign had long since been abandoned. The patient was irritated she could not get in touch with the doctor. Instead of going to the primary web site (after doing a generic search), she stewed. All ended well from a clinical perspective. Still, the story highlights how an innocent variable in one part of the healthcare system can cause untoward events downstream.

There’s still value in tracking marketing campaigns. Doctors want to know the money they are spending is being put to good use.

To remedy this potential snafu, it is probably a good idea to revisit which number the patient should use post-op if there’s a problem. This can be done in the pre-op process and confirmed again post-op. Some physicians give patients their mobile number. I think this is generally a good idea. The vast majority of patients do not abuse this privilege. Also, one can purchase virtual numbers that ring on your cell phone. This way you know it is coming from a patient and not a telemarketer.

Patients need access to doctors in the post-op period. Double checking how they can connect to the doctor to answer questions will prevent greater headaches if the patient later complains the doctor “abandoned” them.

What do you think?

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Jeffrey Segal, MD, JD

Dr. Jeffrey Segal, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Medical Justice, is a board-certified neurosurgeon. In the process of conceiving, funding, developing, and growing Medical Justice, Dr. Segal has established himself as one of the country’s leading authorities on medical malpractice issues, counterclaims, and internet-based assaults on reputation.

Dr. Segal holds a M.D. from Baylor College of Medicine, where he also completed a neurosurgical residency. Dr. Segal served as a Spinal Surgery Fellow at The University of South Florida Medical School. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa as well as the AOA Medical Honor Society. Dr. Segal received his B.A. from the University of Texas and graduated with a J.D. from Concord Law School with highest honors.

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