Dr Katie Grant, Medicolegal Consultant with Medical Protection touches on the potential pitfalls of promoting your practice.
Maintaining clinical knowledge and skills is fundamental to good medical practice but doctors should also be mindful of how they present themselves, and their practice, to the public. Many medical professionals are innovative and seek new and effective ways to promote their practice, however any such practice promotion must be carried out in a way that is compliant with relevant guidance and regulation. Medical Protection has assisted its members with a wide range of practice promotion issues at the Medical Council of Hong Kong (MCHK) and this article explores potential pitfalls and tips to minimise your risk in this area.
The MCHK, in its Code of Professional Conduct1, sets out expectations for doctors with regards practice promotion. In Section 5.2, the MCHK explains that a doctor providing information to the public or their patients must ensure that the information is accurate, factual, objectively verifiable and presented in a balanced manner. These should include the advantages and disadvantages of any proposed treatment.
The MCHK recognises that persons seeking advice on medical services for themselves or their families are particularly vulnerable to persuasive influence and should be protected from advertisements and practice promotion in an overly commercial manner.
The MCHK considers that such practices are likely to undermine public trust in the profession, and could eventually also diminish the standard of medical care itself.
In section 5.2.1 of the Code the MCHK says that such service information should not:
• Be exaggerated or misleading
• Be comparative with or claim superiority over other doctors
• Claim uniqueness without proper justifications for such claim
• Aim to solicit or canvass for patients
• Be used for commercial promotion of medical and health related products and services (for the avoidance of doubt, recommendations in clinical consultations are not regarded as commercial promotion of products and services)
• Be sensational or unduly persuasive
• Arouse unjustified public concern or distress
• Generate unrealistic expectations
• Disparage other doctors (fair comments excepted)
Dissemination of service information to the public and patients is also addressed within the Code, and includes detailed descriptions about what may, and may not, be included in practice-based messaging including signboards, stationery, and to the media, and how this should be presented.
Medical Protection has assisted its members with a wide range of queries and cases arising from practice promotion, and some examples based on our case files are discussed below:
Social media mishaps
Dr C worked in a clinic as a GP providing some cosmetic services. Without his knowledge, a member of clinical staff uploaded very enthusiastic patient testimonials, before and after patient photographs and claims that he was the ‘leading doctor in his field’ on the clinic’s social media page. Dr C received a notice of investigation from the MCHK Preliminary Investigation Committee. Medical Protection provided him with medicolegal expertise throughout the process and Dr C explained that he had not been aware of recent updates to the clinic’s website and expressed remorse for his oversight.
The writing’s on the wall
Dr A had a clinic within an office building and received a complaint from the MCHK related to her use of specialist titles, qualifications and other material related to her practice. The complainant alleged she had not complied with the Code regarding the physical features of the signboards within the building. Dr A was unaware of the specific obligations regarding these matters and had not checked the relevant items before they were used. Medical Protection assisted her with her investigation: combining expertise from a medically-trained medicolegal consultant and local team of experienced lawyers.
A spot of bother
Dr T, a specialist in dermatology, was invited by a pharmaceutical company to produce a short video about a common skin condition. He provided a short, factual explanation of the disease symptoms and treatment options. When he logged onto the website to view the video he was horrified to see that it had been edited to include clear reference and advertisement of a certain drug (which was one of the available treatment options). He had not realised the company were planning to edit his contribution. He sought Medical Protection advice to manage his case at the MCHK.
Medical Protection’s top tips
• Be vigilant about your social media presence, even if you do not use certain sites. Ensure any information accessible online is accurate and complies with the Code of Professional Conduct.
• Check websites and other materials produced by any clinics and organisations you work with to ensure that the information they provide – including your specialist title and quotable qualifications – are accurate and comply with the relevant MCHK guidelines.
• Consider any requests from organisations requesting your clinical input very carefully, especially if you will not have ultimate editorial control of the final publication or broadcast.
• Ensure any signage and any written materials relating to your practice comply with the stipulations set out in the Code.
• Members should contact Medical Protection with any queries.
Article originally published by MIMS Hong Kong, republished here with permission.