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Legalities of Medical Practice Advertising: What You Need to Know

Posted on April 20, 2021

In previous generations, word of mouth was all that doctors needed to grow their practices. However, due to pressures from managed care, technology investments, and other costs, many medical practices actively market their services to prospective patients.

One of the most popular marketing tools is advertising. Advertising is paying for space or time to run a message of your choosing. Some examples include digital ads on websites, sponsored posts on social media, print ads, and TV ads.

Medical practice owners are legally responsible for the content of their advertising. Following are some thoughts to keep in mind as you develop an advertising campaign to promote your practice:

The Federal Trade Commission Rules

The governmental department that regulates advertising in the US is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC requires that all advertisements be free of deception. Deception is defined as[1]:

1. There must be a representation, omission or practice that is likely to mislead the consumer.

2. The act or practice must be considered from the perspective of the reasonable consumer.

3. The representation, omission or practice must be material.”

If someone reports your ad to the FTC,  and the FTC finds your ad to be deceptive, the FTC has the authority to issue a cease and desist order to stop running the ad, issue a fine, and/or require you to run corrective advertising[2].

The American Medical Association’s Stance on Advertising

Similar to the FTC, The American Medical Association (AMA) supports medical practice advertising as long as it is not deceptive[3]. The ad should avoid any false or misleading statements and avoid any deception caused by omitting relevant material[4].

The AMA also advises that most consumers do not understand medical terminology. As a result, the use of highly technical language could deceive consumers, so all medical / scientific information should be explained so that a lay person can easily understand it[5].

Some Additional Best Practices

  1. Don’t exaggerate. Make sure your advertising accurately represents the credentials of your practice. For example, don’t say “board-certified” if a doctor is not. Similarly, don’t exaggerate results. The results for procedures should be typical results that most patients can expect to have. It’s also important to include a disclaimer, such as “results may vary”.
  1. Secure written consent for all testimonials. Ensure that the patient fully understands all of the information in the testimonial and how / where it will be used.
  1. Avoid disparaging competitors. This can leave your practice vulnerable to being sued.
  1. Retain knowledgeable legal counsel. By reviewing your advertising with counsel before starting an ad campaign, your attorney can advise of you of any needed changes to ensure that your ad is legally compliant. This can save you a significant amount of time and expense instead of having to defend your practice against a deceptive advertising charge.

If you are looking for a law firm experienced in healthcare law, contact ECanter Lawyers at 561-447-4500.

ECanter Lawyers

Healthcare business owners as well as physicians face unique regulations as they form, purchase or sell practices or ancillary businesses. At ECanter Lawyers, we have the necessary legal expertise to properly assist clients with the purchase or sale of medical-related practices in Florida. In addition, our firm assists with the drafting, review, and the negotiation process of medical and healthcare related contracts, including: 

  • Entity Formation
  • Structural Compliance
  • Ownership Documents
  • Medical Directorships
  • Sales & Purchases – Space Leases
  • Buy-ins & Buy-outs

[1] Federal Trade Commission. 831014deceptionstmt.pdf (ftc.gov) Page 1. 

[2] Federal Trade Commission. Advertising FAQ’s: A Guide for Small Business | Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov)

[3] American Medical Association. Advertising & Publicity | American Medical Association (ama-assn.org)

[4] American Medical Association. Advertising & Publicity | American Medical Association (ama-assn.org)

[5] American Medical Association. Advertising & Publicity | American Medical Association (ama-assn.org)

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