Dentists’ opinions sought on ethical advertising

The GDC is seeking the opinions of dentists on the most ethical way to advertise their dental services.
The aim is to create a guidance booklet for members.
One of the suggestions in the draft document is that dentists should not use the courtesy title ‘Dr’, a topic that’s prompted much debate.
The consultation paper also suggests they should also not refer to themselves as ‘orthodontist’ unless they are on the specialist list.
Last year, advert watchdogs upheld a decision to stop a dentist calling himself ‘doctor’ in his magazine adverts.

In February 2009, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that although dentist John Stowall was a specialist in surgical and oral dentistry, the use of Dr was ‘ambiguous’ and ‘misleadingly implied’ he was qualified to conduct facial surgery.

The ASA upheld its decision when Dental Protection appealed against the judgment, saying: ‘We considered… that the title ‘Dr’ before a practitioners name should not be used in ads unless the practitioner held a general medical qualification, a relevant PhD or doctorate (of sufficient length and intensity) or unless the similarities and differences between the practitioner’s qualifications and medical qualifications were explained in detail in the ad.

‘We noted from the list of qualifications included in the ad that the practitioner was not medically qualified and did not hold a relevant PhD or doctorate qualification. We also considered that the advertisement did not explain the differences between the practitioner’s qualifications and medical qualifications. We concluded that the use of ‘Dr’ in this ad could mislead.’

Regarding this consultation paper, the GDC said: ‘This is a consultation on a proposed new guidance booklet for registrants which will provide them with more detailed information on what is expected of them regarding advertising.
‘Our main purpose is to protect patients and a key aspect of this is ensuring that all information or publicity material regarding dental services is legal, decent, honest and truthful.
Three of the most relevant principles of the guidance in relation to advertising are:
• Work within your knowledge, professional competence and physical abilities
• Do not make any claims that could mislead patients
• Justify the trust that your patients, the public and your colleagues have in you by always acting honestly and fairly
The paper says: ‘The onus is on you to be honest in your presentation of your skills and qualifications. For example, if you have undertaken a weekend course in implantology, can you really say that you are a ‘qualified implantologist’? Would you be able to justify this claim to a fitness to practise panel if something went wrong?’
The draft paper also warns: ‘Do not abuse your position as a dental professional by endorsing medicines, oral health products or devices for financial gain. Recommend products only if they are the best way to meet a patient’s needs.’
The closing date in Friday 1 October. To respond to the consultation, click here.

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