As an industry bound by ethics there are several factors that should influence the nature and content of any advertisements, promotions or provision of information.
With effect from 1st March 2012 the General Dental Council have introduced some new rules for dental business’ to follow ‘Principles of Ethical Advertising’.
This blog post will introduce you to the requirements of this document and will help you make a start to make sure you are playing by the rules.
This guidance doesn't just apply to dentists, it covers all GDC registrants so if you are on the GDC register or producing information on behalf of a registrant read on...
As a registrant you have an over-riding responsibility to ensure that any advertisements, promotional items and information sources containing your name are correct, including your GDC registration number.
All advertising and sources of information should use accurate information that is updated regularly, using clear and simple language avoiding dental terminology that the general public may not understand.
Avoid making unsubstantiated claims, many practices out there make claims like ‘pain free dentistry’ how do you substantiate this statement? What evidence do you have to back up this claim? A simple survey of a patient’s perception of pain during treatment could give you this evidence but it must be collected regularly and consistently. Using statements like ‘we’ll give you the perfect smile’ without qualification, could be misleading and considered ambiguous. Achieving the perfect smile is possible in many different ways depending upon individual needs and for some people it may not be possible and imperfect compromises have to be made.
Avoid claims or statements intended or likely to create unjustified expectations. If your marketing promotes a fantastic patient experience, this must be delivered to each and every patient. If you offer services that promise a quick result for example ‘Straight Teeth in Weeks’, it is important within your advertising to mention that these treatments are not suitable for everyone and in some cases limited results will be seen. If the patient isn’t told this from the get go you have given them an unrealistic expectation.
Be clear about the nature of your service- is it NHS or Private or a mixture of both, be clear about your offering and make sure patients are not being mislead about what type of treatment they can expect to receive and the fees that might apply.
Many clinicians are now offering services that do not fall under the remit of traditional dentistry such as facial aesthetics or hygienists and therapists offering tooth whitening. When promoting these services and performing treatments that did not form part of your primary training you must be able to demonstrate that you have undertaken the necessary training in this area to achieve competence.
The guidance also lays out some rules for Dental websites. It is written in line with the Code of Ethics for Dentists in the EU for Electronic Commerce which covers the content of dental websites.
To view the guidance document click here.
In order to follow the new guideline rules on websites it is likely going to be necessary for you to modify your current website to include these additional requirements. You will also need to be able to make regular updates to reflect any changes in personnel, it is specified in the Ethics for Dentists in the EU document that a registrant who leaves the practice should be removed within 1 month.
Your website, as with any other promotional material, must not provide a comparison between the skills and qualifications of yourself and any other dental professional and should not suggest your skills and qualifications are superior to anyone else.
The term ‘specialist’ has been a real bone of contention for the GDC in recent years due numerous registrants referring to themselves ‘a specialist in...’ or a practice calling itself a ‘specialist practice’ when in fact they are not specialists. In order to refer to yourself as a ‘specialist’ you must be on one of the GDC’s 13 specialist registers. If you are not, it is not acceptable to refer to yourself as a specialist. Instead you can say ‘special interest in’ or ‘experienced in’ or ‘practice limited to’, the bottom line is that by incorrectly using the term specialist you are misleading the public into thinking you are something that you are not.
The above does not only apply to dentists, there are currently no specialist lists for DCP’s and on this basis the term must be avoided for example ‘specialist denture technician’ or ‘specialist implant nurse’. Regardless of what level of further qualification you have gained, unless you are a registered specialist you simply cannot refer to yourself as one, to do so would be viewed as misleading.
Gaining an honorary degree or professional fellowships and memberships are often prestigious achievements however listing letters after your name in recognition of these achievements for marketing purposes can be very misleading for patients. Patients do not always understand the meaning of these letters and they may view them as a reflection of additional skills and academic qualifications which may not be the case. Keeping things simple and restricting the use of letters after your name to those that are meaningful to the general public will ensure you are working in line with these rules.
In summary, with any advertising or promotional information you produce for patients you must keep ethics in mind at all times. You must produce information that is truthful, honest, easy to understand and promotes the best interests of the patient.