Marketing Tips for Healthcare Practices

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Marketing efforts on behalf of doctors should be approached with care. Physicians should be mindful of ethical and professional obligations, regulatory concerns and the manner in which they promote their services. Ethical implications Physician marketing must be truthful and accurate.

An advertisement cannot exclude facts that may influence a patient’s decision-making process.   Doctors cannot advertise services that are beyond their capabilities or experience. Practices must not suggest that the services performed or materials used are superior to other physicians’ services or products. Likewise, doctors must be careful about advertising as a specialist. Finally, advertisements cannot guarantee, suggest or imply results from treatment.   Patient privacy  Doctors must not reveal patient information in their advertisements. This includes any identifying information, such as personal facts, data, photos or videos. De-identifying patient information is complicated and should be approached with proper guidance. If a practice wants to broadcast a patient testimonial with any identifying information, a compliant release must be signed first. Free & discount services Providing patients with free or discounted services must be approached with care.

There are limitations on how and when free or discounted services may be advertised. For example, some states regulate the amount of time that must pass before a doctor can charge for services after a free consultation or service.     Free items may also create anti-kickback risks. Doctors cannot provide gift cards to induce potential patients to switch providers, for example.  Pre-paid coupons for services raise additional concerns. The thought is that doctors may be hesitant to turn away a patient when the services were paid for in advance. This could result in medically unnecessary treatment. Essentially, doctors must be careful that a solicitation is not inviting overutilization of treatment. Contact with patients Advertising that involves direct contact with patients is particularly risky. Many states limit or prohibit the use of solicitation in person or by phone. The goal is to protect potential patients from undue influence, pressure or intimidation.  Advertising by doctors Advertising personally performed by a doctor is scrutinized very carefully. Physicians enjoy a position of trust and authority, so there is greater risk of undue influence when a physician is recommending a product or service. Typically, patients believe that doctors are making recommendations in the patient’s best interest. This is particularly true when the target is the physician’s patient.   Therefore, if a doctor is advertising a product or service, the marketing must be accurate and not deceptive. Payment for marketing Doctors should not pay for marketing based on a commission or on a percentage basis. These arrangements are subject to enhanced scrutiny. There is, however, an exception for legitimate employees of a practice. These marketing arrangements must still be handled carefully to ensure regulatory compliance.

Related Practices:   Healthcare Law

Related Attorney:   Keith J. Roberts, Shannon Carroll

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