As a physician leading your own practice, it is important to be aware of the laws enforced by federal and state government agencies when preparing advertising materials for your practice or hiring an agency to design them. The following are the three basic laws that you must keep in mind:
- Claims in ads must be truthful and must not mislead consumers.
- You must be able to substantiate any claims made in advertising.
- Your advertisements must not be “unfair.”
Government Agencies That Enforce Advertising Laws
If you violate these rules, you could be liable for expensive fines and other legal sanctions. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has jurisdiction over the advertising of most products and services, but other government agencies can also get involved. For example, the Food and Drug Administration monitors products with medicinal benefits. Disputes are sometimes resolved by state and local consumer agencies or private groups such as the Better Business Bureau.
The FTC determines if an ad is deceptive by looking at the material from the point of view of a “reasonable consumer.” Here are the highlights of what the FTC looks for when it investigates advertising:
- The whole picture: The FTC looks at an ad in its entirety to determine what it conveys to consumers.
- “Express” and “implied” claims: You must have proof to back up claims in your ads. When you literally make a statement, you’re making an express claim. An implied claim is one made indirectly or by inference.
- What the ad doesn’t say: Failing to include information in an advertisement leaves consumers with a faulty impression about the product or service.
- Significant factors: The FTC decides whether a claim is “material” to a consumer’s decision to buy or use a product.
What the FTC Looks for
The law requires you to have sufficient evidence to back any claims you make in an ad before it runs. The exact evidence depends on the claim. In most cases, the FTC insists health or safety claims must be supported by “competent and reliable scientific evidence—tests, studies, or other scientific evidence that has been evaluated by people qualified to review it.”
Consult with an Attorney
It is important to consult with an attorney if you have questions about the legality of your physician marketing and advertising program. Healthcare marketing strategies that get the word out about your practice or services are important to the success of your practice, but a badly-worded advertisement can do more harm than good.
- The Federal Trade Commission’s advertising and marketing page: https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/advertising-and-marketing
- The Better Business Bureau’s advertising page: https://www.bbb.org/ad-truth/
While we are not attorneys and do not provide legal advice, Sol Schwartz & Associates has been supporting physicians and medical practices since 1980. Learn more about our medical practice accounting services and contact us if you’d like to discuss your situation.