Question: A colleague was recently brought before our state board by a medical doctor who claimed the D.C.'s advertising was deceptive. I'd like to start an advertising campaign to bring in new patients, but I don't want to make the same mistake. What should I do?
by Mike Whitmer in Operational & Staff Risks on Monday, February 01, 2016
Answer: Your advertising is something you’ll want to consider as part of your practice’s total risk management approach.
If someone—a healthcare practitioner, a patient or anyone else—believes your advertising is misleading, they may file a complaint with your state board. It’s also possible they may lodge a consumer fraud claim against you.
While there is no way to completely insulate your practice against an allegation of misleading advertising, you reduce your risk by advertising in a manner that is at least as professional as that of other healthcare providers in your community. While not a comprehensive list, avoiding the following in your advertising will go a long way toward improving your practice’s risk management.
What to Avoid
Coupons, FREE offers or prepayment plans. Not only do these “deals” 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.
Questionable or unsubstantiated statements. When touting the chiropractic services you offer, be careful not to appear to over-promise. Not everyone may expect the same results as a patient who was a best-case scenario. Also, make sure to cite the source for any statistics you use.
Negative comments about other healthcare methods. This may foster an environment where practitioners look for an opportunity to retaliate against you. Also, this tactic makes you look unprofessional.
Confidential information. Never use any information about a patient without their written consent.
Clinical jargon. Using technical terms such as “thoracic” versus mid back, “Cervical” versus neck or “radiculopathy” versus radiating pain 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 “chiropractic physician.” Others require you to call yourself a “Doctor of Chiropractic” not just a doctor.
As you develop advertising materials, check with your attorney to ensure you’re consistent with the rules and regulations of your state board. In addition, offers of warranties, case-fee payments, terms implying superiority of care all may be in violation of state practice regulations and could lead to board action.
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 as well as help build understanding of the types of services you offer.