Rules governing medical practice advertising are less a matter of law than of ethics. The Food and Drug Administration governs language concerning medications very closely, but does not review medical practice advertising. State laws may sometimes set forth regulations, so physicians promoting a medical practice should check with all applicable local rules.
Ethically, other restrictions exist for websites, brochures, and all other marketing pieces:
- Truthful and nondeceptive language: Physicians should ensure that all marketing is clear and accurate. Areas that can be presented in a comprehensible way include the physician’s background, the clinic's specialities, methods of fee determination, and payment options. These are all safe areas that are less likely to mislead patients.
- Factually supported language: You should not say that better health is likely, or guaranteed, as this is impossible to predict. Physicians should not give figures as to how many cases of diabetes or arthritis have been effectively treated, as this implies the same for other patients. Finally, avoid patient testimonials. These are extremely powerful, but could promise more than you can guarantee.
- Disclaimers: Affiliations or sponsorships should be disclosed on websites or other pieces. Also, advertising language on a website should be clearly distinguished from any objective medical information that can be found on the site.
- Non-aggressive language: You are not selling cars, or some other products that need a hard sell. Rather, you should be offering yourself as an option without misleading information or language.
When preparing websites, brochures, pamphlets, ads, press releases and more, remember these rules. By following them, you ensure that you are treating you patients as they should be, and exemplifying the integrity that should be associated with your practice.
When in doubt, consult with an attorney that specializes in medical practices.
Sources for this article include:
Carroll, Jenny. Legal Examination of Physician Advertising on the Internet. Facial Plastic Surgery. Vol. 22, 1, 2006.
About the Author
Amy Lillard was a regulatory and marketing professional at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University for 4 years prior to writing on healthcare topics.
The author discloses no financial conflicts of interest with the content of this article.