Beware the ‘B’ word, warn dental-legal experts

Dental practices risk falling foul of the law if they mention proprietary brands of botulinum toxin and other prescription-only medicines in their advertisements and marketing literature warns the Dental Defence Union (DDU).

The article advises DDU members that it is a criminal offence to advertise prescription-only medicines (POMs) directly to the public and they need to work within the regulations to avoid action from the Committee of Advertising Practice, the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency or the General Dental Council.

For example, while a particular brand name of botulinum toxin may be a household name, dental practices cannot actually refer to it in publicity material as it is a prescription-only medicine.

The DDU also highlights recent guidance from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) which says that practices can mention conditions and services but cannot refer to specific prescription-only medicines on their website home page.

Further information on specific medicines can only be provided on other pages, which patients have chosen to access, as long as this is in the context of an overview of treatment options.

Rupert Hoppenbrouwers, head of the DDU said: ‘Dentists who wish to promote new cosmetic treatments need to be aware of the legal restrictions and seek advice if they are unsure. Of course, dental professionals already have to tread a fine line when advertising their services as the GDC takes a serious view of statements that could be seen as misleading. The DDU has recently assisted a number of members with complaints to the GDC about promotional material, several of which were made anonymously, and we can advise members on draft advertising and publicity material to help them avoid dento-legal problems later.’

To illustrate the pitfalls of practice promotion, this issue of the DDU Journal also includes a case study about a dentist facing a GDC investigation after his  financial director placed an advertisement in the local telephone directory stating the practice was ‘a centre of excellence’ which ‘specialised in all aspects of dentistry’.

The DDU was able to help the member draft a letter of response and the GDC accepted he had been unaware of the advert. However it warned him that as practice principal, responsibility for the advert rested with him and in future he must make absolutely sure no misleading statements were made.

The DDU has produced the following tips for dental professionals on advertising and promoting their practice:
• Have a practice protocol on placing advertisements and other publicity, including the internet
• Ensure no publicity statement could be regarded as misleading or cannot be substantiated eg never refer to a practitioner as a specialist unless they are on the relevant GDC specialist list
• Phrases such as ‘centre of excellence’ should be avoided as well as any claim implying superiority over any other dental professional or practice
• Be aware of the legal and regulatory requirements relating to advertising e.g. do not mention prescription-only medicines by name in promotional materials
• If you use images of patients, you must obtain their consent, making sure they understand exactly what they are agreeing to and how the images will be used. Anonymise any images if it is not necessary for the patient to be identified.

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