Should Doctors Advertise?

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

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5 thoughts on “Should Doctors Advertise?

  1. Interesting Article, however, where would doctors advertise their business? What types of publications, magazines, places? What magazines or publications do doctors read? Thanks. Joe

  2. Americans are getting ripped off by the health care profession and the sad part about it is that they are blissfully ignorant about how expensive their “free market” health care system is. Everyone in health care here wants to make a bundle: Doctors, Insurance Companies, Drug Companies, hospitals. It’s all about protecting their own industry and overcharging to increase profits.

    And one of the ways you can keep prices up and competition down is to forbid any price advertising. That way doctors and hospitals won’t get into price wars that would benefit consumers but hurt medical profits.

    So in America you can advertise the price of cars, gasoline, and have sales on cameras, TV and canned foods….but Doctors and Hospitals are NOT permitted to advertise. And we call that Free Market Medicine.

    In other countries, like Thailand for instance, hospitals post their costs for everything from a colonoscopy to heart bypass surgery so you can compare the cost at different hospitals. That’s how the free market is suppose to work, right.

    I just came back from Thailand in January where I got a complete physical: Blood work, EKG, carotid echography test, Upper and Lower abdominal ultrasound, chest Xray, Cardio Stress Test, Urinalysis, Stool Examination…all for $400!!!
    Just the Stress Test alone would have cost $3000-$4000 in the US. Every year I have my physical done I log on the different hospital websites in Thailand and find the hospital offering the most services for the cheapest price.

    But here in the US You won’t ever find a price list by any doctor or hospital in the US. Go ahead. call your local hospital and see if you can get a price list for a colonoscopy, and EKG, an X-ray, the cost of a private room. Good luck. It’s all very secret. You can’t compare or shop for better rates. The US medical profession doesn’t want any comparison shopping that would force doctors and hospitals to compete with each other on price.

    Furthermore, In Thailand we have the option of a public health care system that is free for everyone and a private system that provides better service and more options if you are willing to pay for it. The private option is still way way cheaper than in the US because the public option forces the private option to be competitive in order to woo patients who would otherwise opt for Free care.

    In the US there’s no choice. No public. Only and overly expensive private system.

    Two years ago I had a condition called Esophageal dysphagia. The throat doctor in my hometown in California said he could fix the problem for $2500 in his office. I went to a Thai PUBLIC HOSPITAL (used my US passport as ID) and had the surgery done for $100…including the doctor and the anesthesiologist and a biopsy. Try to find that in the USA!!!!

    America’s health care problem is that there is NO competition among doctors and hospitals to offer the best service for the cheapest price. That’s why you pay 10 to 20 times more for the same treatment in the US than in Thailand

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