Advertising has traditionally been a strict no no amongst the medical fraternity. It has always been considered infra-dig. A doctor’s face peering down from a bill board or staring you in the face from the pages of your favourite magazine does make one feel a little uncomfortable. We have all been brought up to look on the medical profession as something noble and with a strong orientation towards service to humanity.
However in today’s times I am not sure this argument really holds. If a doctor chooses to advertise his skills and does it honestly without taking recourse to exaggeration and hyperbole, is there anything really wrong with it? If a doctor has unique skills and training, which helps him get better results, than isn’t advertising these, allow consumers of healthcare make better informed choices? Why do we have to look upon this particular doctor as ‘too commercial’?
It is also believed that doctors who spend a lot of money on advertising will eventually recover these from hapless patients. There is no evidence of this and to believe that just because a doctor chooses to build his practice by advertising, he will also resort to unethical practices (to make money to pay for the advertising) is wrong. If a doctor is keen on cutting corners to make a fast buck, he will do so anyhow.
I do believe that it is important for doctors to connect with consumers. They must inform the society they serve about their skills, training and experience. Advertising can be a strong and powerful tool to do this.
The big question really here is what kind of advertising should doctors undertake to attract more patients. I believe the ads should be honest and truthful. They should not make promises, which are misleading and difficult to believe. The advertising should largely stick to facts. It may be wrong to say that ‘I am the best/most skilled cardiac surgeon in town’. However, the same point can be made by stating that ‘I have done 10000 cardiac surgeries in the past 10 years with a success rate of 99%’. Consumers are not morons, they will get the message.
A separate regulatory body might be required to ensure that doctor’s advertising is fair and makes truthful and verifiable claims. This can be an independent body created by medical community with representatives from the world of advertising, media and aware members of the society. The society can develop a ‘code of ethical communication’ for all doctors to follow, while advertising their services. The media can stipulate that they will accept ads only if cleared by this body.
I do hold that the time has come when doctors were allowed to advertise their services. Not only will this help doctors attract more patients, it will also help consumers choose their doctors better.
The pics are from http://www.flickr.com