CPSO Proposes Flexibility in Advertising Rules

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Illustration of a bullhorn expelling communication tools

The College is currently consulting on a proposed policy that aims to add clarity to the rules regarding appropriate advertising.

The proposed Advertising policy’s intent is to support physicians who wish to advertise their services while ensuring that such advertising serves the needs and best interests of patients.

While the rules for advertising are set out in regulation within the Medicine Act, we understand that interpreting and applying these rules to the realities of a 21st century practice can be challenging. We also know, from engaging with patients, that they see both benefits and risks associated with physician advertising.

“Our intent with this proposed policy is to address areas of ambiguity in the existing rules, and provide flexibility within those rules where it makes sense in the context of today’s practice environment. We’ve also set out additional professional expectations where we’ve identified areas of concern through our regulatory work,” said Dr. Craig Roxborough (PhD), Manager of the CPSO’s policy department.

This draft policy aims to act as a one-stop resource for physicians, capturing all legal and professional obligations in one place, with additional resources set out in the companion Advice document.

Notably, the draft policy permits the use of before and after photos or videos in limited circumstances. This is a departure from the College’s historical approach to before and after photos and videos, where their use has been interpreted to fall within the definition of a testimonial and are therefore prohibited by the regulation. The proposed policy specifically states that before and after photos and videos that comply with the policy will not be considered a testimonial.

Equally important, the draft policy recognizes that not all before and after photos and videos are the same. In addition to compliance with the advertising expectations that apply broadly (see above), specific expectations addressing the use of before and after photos and videos have been developed to permit their use. The College allows before and after photos and videos when they are used to provide accurate and educational information, portray a fair and reasonable outcome, and where patients have provided free and fully informed consent to their specific use.

Our feedback from patients indicates a desire to have this information available to help them make informed decisions. However, we are aware that risks exist in such situations and patients can be vulnerable to exploitation. This led us to strike a balance that supports appropriate practices in a variety of disciplines. This balance is an example of the College’s right-touch regulation approach as articulated in our strategic plan.

Dr. Keith Hay, a College medical advisor and member of the policy working group , said he was initially opposed to permitting before and after photos and videos , but was won over when protections for patients were built into the proposed policy. “I like that the proposed policy makes it clear that before and after photos and videos can’t be overly commercial, for example they can’t be pushed out in paid promotional campaigns to people who aren’t looking for them. By permitting physicians to use before and after photos and videos in formats where prospective patients may seek them out on websites or social media pages, we are enhancing their access to more information. I see that as being helpful.”

Advertising content MUST:

  • Be readily comprehensible.
  • Be dignified and in good taste.
  • Be accurate and factual.
  • Be verifiable.
  • Be respectful and balanced in tone.
  • Uphold the reputation of the profession.

Advertising content can NOT:

  • Be false, misleading or deceptive.
  • Sensationalize, exaggerate, or be provocative.
  • Be discrediting, disparaging, or attacking in nature.
  • Contain statements that promise or suggest a better or more effective service than any other physician or health professional.
  • Use a testimonial.
  • Reference a specific drug, appliance or equipment (unless it is known by its commercial name in a generic sense).
  • Offer incentives to the public to seek a medical service.