Advertising Policy Approved

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New guidance aims to act as a one-stop resource for physicians, capturing obligations from regulation and policy in one place

Following an external consultation, the CPSO approved a policy that will support physicians in advertising their services effectively, while ensuring such advertising serves the needs and best interests of the public and patients. 

Currently, the General Regulation under the Medicine Act, 1991 sets out physicians’ legal obligations when advertising. The College’s recently approved Advertising policy aims to help provide clarity around these rules and set out appropriate professional expectations where the rules of the regulation are ambiguous. 

“This policy will assist physicians in advertising their services effectively, while assuring such advertising is appropriate and in the best interests of the public,” said Dr. Brenda Copps, CPSO President and member of the policy working group. Importantly, she added, the policy captures both physicians’ legal obligations as set out in the regulation as well as additional expectations of the College. This will assist physicians in understanding their obligations, by having all expectations contained in one document. 

Overall, the respondents to the consultation on the draft policy appeared to find it clear and comprehensive, and the expectations to be reasonable. Much of the critical feedback received related to obligations set out in the regulation, where the College’s ability to make changes is limited. This included feedback on several areas where the broad language of the regulation appears to prohibit behaviours that many expressed could be appropriate, such as:

  • Referencing specific drugs, appliances or equipment in advertising;
  • Associating with products or services other than a physicians’ own medical services; and
  • Directing or targeting prospective patients.

The existence of the regulation is a limiting factor for the CPSO on this policy, but we do believe physicians need to understand why such advertising is not permitted. To that end, the content in the Advice to the Profession document, which accompanies the policy, has been expanded to explain the intentions of these provisions and the types of behaviours they are trying to prevent, to assist physicians in understanding their obligations.

The feedback received was largely supportive of the College’s proposal to allow for the use of before and after photos and videos in limited circumstances.

The Advertising policy states that physicians can use before and after photos and videos (including those taken during a procedure) on their websites and on their social media platforms. However, before and after photos and videos must not be displayed in advertising where they may be seen by members of the public unsolicited. This is to ensure these images can be available for patients who wish to see them and may seek them out, but are not in widespread use in advertising mediums such as magazines or television.

Other expectations for use of before and after photos and videos include that they provide accurate and educational information, portray a fair and reasonable outcome, have not been manipulated to misrepresent results, and that the patient depicted has provided free and informed consent for their use. These expectations are in addition to the broader expectations for advertising. 

Allowing before and after photos and videos is a departure from the CPSO’s historical approach, where their use had been interpreted to fall within the definition of a testimonial and was therefore prohibited by the regulation. Now, before and after photos and videos that comply with the policy will not be considered a testimonial. 

Feedback received was largely supportive of the College’s proposal to allow for the use of before and after photos and videos in limited circumstances.

“Patients have indicated to us a wish to have such information available to help them make informed decisions. However, we are aware risks exist in such situations and this led us to strike a balance that supports appropriate practices in a variety of disciplines,” said Dr. Copps.  

The feedback heard during the consultation led the College to reverse the draft policy’s prohibition on the use of incentives (e.g., time-limited prices for a service, discount coupons, offering treatments or procedures as prizes in a contest, etc.) in advertising. Feedback suggested this prohibition was too paternalistic and infringed on patient autonomy. The CPSO will continue to consider any inappropriate incentives under the general requirement that advertising be in “good taste” and the advice document outlines some instances where incentives might not meet this requirement. The advice document also elaborates on how physicians should engage with third-party review sites. 

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 cannot:

  • 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