As a naturopathic physician, you know the good you can do to help people achieve their optimal health. With the coronavirus reaching new heights, you may want to tout how naturopathic care can help. But be careful before you do.
Posted in ND Insights Newsletter on Tuesday, December 15, 2020
In times like these, it’s tempting to share on social media, your practice website or other communications, the multiple benefits of naturopathic care, as well as your specialty. However, it’s important to be accurate.
Be Aware of Wording
Most important: Health authorities will hold the line that there is no “cure” for COVID-19, and the scientific literature supports this assertion. It is critical that NDs do not assert or imply that they can prevent or heal patients with COVID-19.
Even saying, “We treat COVID-19” can get a doctor into hot water. Depending on your local scope of practice and regulations, you may be able to assert that you support patients and help aid their immune system. Similar to family practice physicians, NDs use therapies to help patients through difficult and even harrowing experiences; however, they are not in possession of a yet undiscovered cure.
Additionally, recent federal, state and local health mandates may mean:
- NDs may treat fewer patients in person, depending on current restrictions
- Some patients may be reluctant to be seen in person
In today’s ever-competitive environment, it’s important to remember that if someone believes your advertising is misleading, they may file a complaint with your state board. It’s also possible they will lodge a consumer fraud claim against you. Then, you will be on the defensive to substantiate what you advertised. This can happen not just with COVID-19 advertising but with any public practice claims.
While there is no way to completely protect your practice against an allegation of misleading advertising, you can reduce your risk by advertising in a manner that other healthcare providers in your community do not view as questionable or inaccurate. Keeping in mind the following will help improve your practice’s risk management.
What to Avoid
- Questionable or unsubstantiated statements. When touting the naturopathic services you offer, be careful not to over-promise. Not everyone may experience the same results as a patient who was a best-case scenario. Also, make sure to cite the sources for any statistics you use.
- Guarantees, waived fee payments and implying a superior care. They may be in violation of state practice regulations and could lead to board action. A recent example is the advertising of two doctors who claimed their customers would lose 20 to 40 or more pounds in 40 days through a fat-burning plan. However, they failed to mention that the plan consisted of a very low-calorie diet of 500 to 800 calories a day.
- Negative comments about other healthcare methods. This may foster an environment where practitioners look for an opportunity to retaliate against you. It may induce some impressionable patients not to seek forms of healthcare that could save their life, like screening tests for cancer or a visit to the ER. Also, this tactic makes you look unprofessional, engaging in conduct unbecoming of a physician.
- Coupons (e.g., Groupon), free offers or prepayment plans. Not only do these deals tend to downplay the high-quality services you offer, they also have the potential for being misunderstood. If you decide to use these, check with your state board regarding their legality.
- Confidential information. Never use any information about a patient without their written consent. Use care not to share information that would identify a patient. (This is particularly the case in small towns where patient details may be common knowledge.)
- Clinical jargon. Using technical terms increases the chances your ad will be misunderstood. Moreover, many potential patients will look past your ad if they can’t relate to it.
- Offensive images. What may seem commonplace to you as a healthcare practitioner might strike a layperson as unusual or even negative. Be careful that the photos and art you use don’t have the potential to be misconstrued by potential patients.
- Violating state requirements. For example, some states won’t let you use the word “physician”—unless you specify “naturopathic physician.”
As you develop advertising materials, check with your state board or your practice attorney to ensure they're consistent with the rules and regulations in your state.
Portray Yourself Professionally
When your advertising portrays your practice in a professional light, you put the principles of sound risk management into action. Plus, you’ll gain the long-term respect of your community, your patients, your colleagues and your interdisciplinary relationships. The increased understanding of the types of services you offer, as well as the benefits of naturopathic care, will serve to benefit your practice well past any times of crisis.