Healthcare Marketing Laws: Language to Keep Your Ads Legal

November 26th, 2019 by Jordan Polhemus

The healthcare industry, unlike almost any other industry today, has incredibly strict advertising regulations that both individual physicians and large hospitals must follow when marketing their services. Violating some of these regulations could lead to anything from ads not being permitted on certain platforms to legal action or even a revocation of a physician’s license. We have a great deal of experience navigating the ever-changing healthcare marketing landscape and have outlined the basic do’s and don’ts for ad copy in order to keep your ads legal.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of everything you should and shouldn’t do for medical marketing, but rather an overview of the best practices for the pharmaceutical industry. Medical advertising must comply with the laws and regulations pertaining to the location where the ad is displayed. These recommendations do not include all the specifics for every state, as rules and regulations vary from state to state.

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Advertising Language Do’s and Don’ts

  • Advertising cannot be misleading in any way

    • Misleading or deceitful language is strictly forbidden in all medical advertising. Misleading messaging would create false or unjustified expectations of favorable results, or implications that would cause a reasonable person to misunderstand or be deceived.
    • Example: “This procedure will heal you”, “you will look just like Kim Kardashian”, “you will never need to see another doctor again”.
  • Don’t use words like “best” or “superior”

    • Unless there is objective evidence to support the claim, practices cannot claim professional superiority in any way.
    • Example: “We are the best plastic surgeons in the world”, “you will be under the care of the greatest ophthalmologist in your area”, “make an appointment with the most talented doctor”.
  • Don’t use hyperbole when describing your techniques or results

    • A potential patient’s health should be discussed factually and without embellishment, so using hyperbole, or exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally, would be seen as deceptive and misleading.
    • Example: “your skin will be softer than silk”, “make an appointment for the best day of your life”, “you’ll be as skinny as a toothpick”.
  • Don’t assure a permanent cure for an incurable disease

  • Don’t use intimidation or undue pressure for services, products, or procedures 

    • Example: “If you don’t get this procedure done by __ doctor then you will die”, “if you don’t see Dr. X then you are doing a disservice to your children”.
  • Don’t make any scientific claims if you don’t have a reliable, peer-reviewed study to provide evidence.

    • Because of the level of knowledge physicians have and the amount of trust patients put in their healthcare providers, physicians are required by law and their code of conduct to provide truthful information when making healthcare decisions and recommendations. Therefore, it would be an ethical violation for any practice to claim results that cannot be scientifically proven, whether or not that physician is talking to their own patient.
    • Example: “Getting X surgery extends your life by 15 years” (when instead it is eight years).
  • Don’t show before and after photos without the proper disclaimers

    • Because before and after photos can be influential during a patient’s decision making process, the practice is required to clearly state that results may vary and the results shown are not a guarantee. Otherwise, patients could reasonably expect to see similar results.
    • Disclaimers must be included alongside perceived claims, even if the claims are direct quotations from past patients.
  • Don’t reveal patient details

    • Anonymizing patient information isn’t as simple as changing a name. Under HIPAA, there are more than 18 categories of personal health information (PHI) that can result in patient identification and it can be too easy to reveal confidential information.
    • It is best to either create a fictional scenario in your messaging or work with your attorney to secure a no-compensation, signed patient release before using any of their PHI in advertising.
  • Don’t make any claim about the cost of a service or product that cannot be substantiated

    • Due do differences in medical coverage based on health insurance, prices should never be advertised unless the practice can ensure that price is given to all patients regardless of their healthcare coverage.
  • Don’t use a competitor’s name or any other trademarked name in ad copy or advertising without written permission

  • If you wouldn’t say it in the elevator, don’t put it online

    • Try reading your copy out loud and to others. If it sounds like something you wouldn’t say in an elevator (where you can be overheard), then it shouldn’t be something that you put in advertising.
  • Have your marketing plan, including ad copy, reviewed by an attorney to confirm that no laws are being broken in any of the states your ads will appear.

Working with large hospitals to small private practices, we’re versed in medical marketing and have years of experience running successful campaigns for our clients. As a Google Premier Partner, the majority of Search Influence’s employees are certified in Google AdWords Search, Video, Mobile, Display, and Analytics, just to name a few. Our digital marketing agency keeps up to date with the latest trends in regulations and best practices to best serve our clients. For more information about how we can help promote your practice on Facebook and other social media platforms, start a conversation with us today.

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