SAN DIEGO—Physician advertising can mislead patients and change the dynamic of the patient-physician relationship into one of a consumer-client relationship, said Paul A. Levine, MD, FACS, who gave the Guest of Honor presentation here on April 20 at the Triological Society annual meeting. The meeting was held as part of the Combined Otolaryngology Spring Meetings.
In a presentation titled “Marketing in Our Specialty: The Need for Honesty, Integrity and Reality,” Dr. Levine reminisced about how, during his early training years, physicians attracted patients to their practices by providing exemplary care, which in turn garnered referrals from other patients and physicians. He noted, however, that this reputation-based type of advertising started to decline in 1982 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prohibition of physician advertising amounted to restraint of trade.
“Though physician advertising didn’t take off, you don’t have to look hard nowadays to find aggressive and misleading advertising,” said Dr. Levine, the Robert W. Cantrell Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, chair of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and director of head and neck surgical oncology at the University of Virginia Health System. “Repeat advertisements can cause familiarity that can be mistaken for superiority.”
The Internet, Dr. Levine said, creates even more opportunities for physician advertising as patients flock online to find miracle cures and answers to their health problems. “With expanded media there are far more opportunities to advertise than ever before. This, in conjunction with the acceptance of the Internet makes the power of the computer a force to be reckoned with,” he said.
Dr. Levine described recent advertisements that he considers unprofessional. One advertisement for a practice offered patients a 50 percent discount for their second purchase of a soft tissue injection. Another claimed that the featured otolaryngologist was the only physician in that large metropolitan area who was qualified to perform a particular procedure. The advertisement didn’t cite any information to verify that statement.
“If advertising for us is becoming a must and is altering the relationship from patient to customer we must do everything we can do to prevent this,” he said. “We should never denigrate ourselves to treating patients as customers. Our work should be based on our desire to protect patients, alleviate their suffering and improve their lives.”