Don’t hype up your practice

Private practitioners should be mindful of how they present themselves and their services to the public. Dr Clare Devlin reports.

Private practitioners are increasingly innovative and are seeking new, effective ways to promote their clinic and stay ahead of the competition. 

In its Good Medical Practice guidance, the GMC sets out that when advertising your services, you must make sure the information you publish is factual, can be checked and does not exploit patients’ vulnerability or lack of medical knowledge. 

Members of the public seeking advice on medical services either for themselves or their families may be particularly vulnerable to persuasive influence and it is important that they are protected from coercive advertising, such as special offers on treatment plans. 

In essence, promotional tactics must not be used in a way that could encourage people to make poorly considered decisions. In particular, it would not be appropriate for medical services to be offered as ‘a prize’. 

Undermine trust

The over-commercialisation of medical services may undermine public trust in the profession and could eventually also diminish the standard of medical care itself. 

The GMC provides further practical guidance about advertising in specific guidance for doctors carrying out cosmetic interventions.  

Practitioners are reminded of the necessity of following the Commit­tee of Advertising Practice’s regulatory codes and guidelines, and of taking a responsible approach to marketing their services. 

In practical terms, this means that the risks of interventions being carried out within your clinic must be accurately represented and must not be minimised or trivialised in any way. 

As there are risks associated with even the most minor treatments, doctors are advised to include information about any associated risks, and not to claim that interventions are risk-free. 

Patients misled

While positive feedback from patients is usually welcome, it is important to ensure new patients are not misled about the likely results of a procedure and that particular care is taken not to falsely claim or imply that certain results are a guaranteed outcome of a procedure. 

It is also wise to be cautious about using exaggerated claims as testimonials, even if they are written by a patient. 

Posting ‘before and after’ photographs of patients is best avoided where they are recognisable or potentially vulnerable, especially with regards to their mental health. If your clinic does publish patient photographs, it must only be done with their fully informed consent, bearing in mind that they can withdraw their consent at any stage.

If you are aware your clinic’s services are being advertised by others, you will be expected to ensure they are not misrepresenting you or offering your services in a way that conflicts with GMC expectations.

While market competitiveness is understandable, your fees should be set according to a fair payment for the service, with the BMA providing detailed advice on business and contractual considerations in private practice.  

Before the consultation and treatment, you should inform the patient of all likely costs, including any fees for medical assessments, follow-up or for treating any unexpected complications.

Dr Clare Devlin (right) is medico-legal consultant at Medical Protection