Dentists have recently joined lawyers in the list of professionals using national TV advertising to enhance their reach, brand and customer appeal. More typically dentists seek to advertise their services closer to home – via print media, local posters and leaflet drops as well as social media campaigns.
Some practices may well work with marketing experts, whilst others adopt a more DIY approach. However all dentists need to be aware when advertising that there are certain requirements expected by the General Dental Council (GDC) and that any contravention of the rules may lead to intervention by the regulator.
Ethical advertising: what to remember
There are a number of ethical issues that dental practitioners have to consider when advertising their services. Leaflets and posters must not have the potential to mislead patients. This means that any inadvertently misleading information could lead to a fitness to practise referral or even criminal conviction.
The onus rests exclusively on the individual whose services are being advertised to ensure that their skills and qualifications have been presented honestly; any services or products offered should only be recommended to patients where they offer the best way to meet the patients’ needs. Of the utmost importance is the need to make clear whether the services and products advertised are offered on the NHS or privately.
It doesn’t stop there. Any information presented should be current and accurate; claims should be backed up with facts; ambiguous statements should be avoided as should statements or claims likely to create an unjustified expectation about the results of any treatment.
Perhaps most importantly, dental practitioners must ensure that their skills or qualifications are not compared with those of other practitioners.
Be wary of the use of specialist titles
Perhaps reassuring to many is the rule that only dentists who are on a GDC specialist list may use the title ‘specialist’ or describe themselves as a ‘specialist in….’. Therefore, any practitioners who are not on a GDC specialist list should avoid using any titles or descriptions that may imply specialist status such as orthodontist or endodontist, etc.
Dental care professionals in particular are encouraged to be careful about any wording they use to describe their skills. For example, saying things like ‘smile specialist’ or ‘denture specialist’ might imply specialist status.
To avoid misleading patients, it is best to steer clear of such descriptions and opt for something more neutral, such as ‘special interest in…’, ‘experienced in…’ or ‘practice limited to…’
The shift towards more innovative advertising styles will no doubt increase the number of consumers (ie patients) of dental services. With any increase in patient numbers, however, comes the potential for an increase in complaints.
Practitioners should expect that the dental regulator will be more vigilant than ever about potential breaches to the rules on advertising. It is absolutely essential that dental practitioners ensure that the wording used to advertise their services is ethically acceptable and does not have the potential to mislead their target market.
If in doubt, get advertising materials checked by a lawyer.