In addition to general truth-in-advertising laws, marketing of healthcare products and services can fall under a variety of laws, regulations and enforcement agencies, depending upon the ad’s claims or the product or service being marketed. Medical professionals and drug makers have special advertising rules to follow. Healthcare marketers also have to comply with laws that restrict how physicians get patient referrals, which can apply to advertise, and carefully guard any patient data.
A variety of laws, rules and government agencies regulate healthcare marketing. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulates how doctors and hospitals can advertise and use customer information for marketing purposes. The Food and Drug Administration sets rules for prescription drugs and some other medical services, such as LASIK eye surgery. The Federal Trade Commission can review ads for over-the-counter drugs and other products making health claims, like reduced cancer risks or higher levels of purity. Also, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has rules about what food products can claim to be “light,” “fat free,” “low sodium” and other health claims.
For drugs, FDA rules require that the ad must tell the consumer at least one approved use for the drug, its generic name, and the most important — if not all — of the known risks and side effects. Pharmaceutical ads don’t have to tell consumers whether there is a generic version of the drug, if there is a similar drug, whether changes in behavior would also help treat the condition, how prevalent the condition is, how quickly the drug works or how many people who take the drug are likely to see improvements in their condition.
Like any advertised product or service, healthcare marketing must meet all truth-in-advertising laws, including local offenses which are generally enforced at the state level by the attorney general. Ads must not only be truthful, but also fair, which means it must include a fair representation of a competitor’s product and not mislead consumers by omitting information. Advertisers should be prepared to document evidence that backs up their claims and ads should be cautious about promising results, according to marketing agency Healthcare Success Strategies. Also, a medical service provider shouldn’t advertise as a specialist unless he’s certified.
Physician Marketing and Social Media
Advertising for doctors can fall under Stark Law rules, which limit how physicians can get referrals. These rules can limit how hospitals and medical centers can feature doctors in their advertising. Marketing campaigns, such as those that use social media platforms, may also need to comply with HIPAA privacy regulations that protect patient data. Healthcare Success Strategies writes that even describing patient conditions in generic, anonymous terms can constitute a privacy violation.