It’s important to be ethical in how you operate your practice and interact with patients, but it’s just as important to be ethical in your marketing efforts. Yes, you want to get patients in the door, but you shouldn’t be using questionable tactics to make that happen.
Even if you’re not intentionally using unethical tactics, you could find yourself in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) or the False Claims Act (FCA). HIPAA protects the confidentiality and security of private health information, while the FCA prohibits you from knowingly making false claims for profit or approval. It’s important to keep current on the requirements of these laws to make sure your marketing efforts don’t run afoul of the law.
You can take steps in both your marketing content and your social media interactions to be as ethical as possible. These are some of the things you should consider.
Your marketing content includes things like the content on your website, ad copy, videos, or any other content you create to market your practice.
- Be clear and consistent in what you say. Don’t leave things open for interpretation; you will just confuse your patients. Try to be as specific as possible in your content, and update it whenever necessary to keep up with the current operations of your practice. For example, if your practice no longer offers a particular procedure or service, you shouldn’t continue to mention it on your website and advertisements. It’s misleading to patients.
- Avoid false or exaggerated claims. Patients are seeking out your services because they need help. It’s misleading to make patients think they may be getting a certain result when in fact it is impossible or very unlikely. It’s also not a good idea to use scare tactics in your content to make patients worry about a potential “problem” with their health. Those tactics may get patients in the door, but you’ll probably end up with very unhappy patients if you can’t deliver on those claims or are making them worry without need.
- Don’t tell patients how good you are; show them. It’s a good idea to avoid arbitrary claims that you are the “best” or a “leader” in your field. It’s fine to talk about your awards, but that shouldn’t be the main focus of all of your marketing materials. Focus more on providing the information that patients need to know about procedures and conditions, and you’ll earn their trust much more quickly. You’re showing them that you are well-versed in their conditions and can help, and that has more value than telling patients you are a “leader.”
Social Media Marketing
Since social media is relatively new and more interactive when compared with other marketing avenues, there are a lot of things to consider when posting.
- Be careful about giving advice. If someone comments or messages your practice on social media asking about a specific health problem, you need to be careful about a response. Encourage those patients to see a doctor for a proper exam and diagnosis; you cannot give out specific medical advice on social media, especially without having examined the patient. You may give out general advice about diet, exercise, staying hydrated, etc., but it’s always a good idea to advise that these patients see a doctor to get an accurate and effective plan of action.
- Never post private information about patients. Posting private patient information will put you in violation of HIPAA. Patients may be open about their own health information and post about it on social media, but your practice should avoid sharing that information on social media unless you have express informed consent from that patient.
- Add a disclaimer on your pages. Be sure to add a disclaimer that your posts are opinion, not medical advice, and an examination with a doctor is needed for diagnosis. You may share general information about different conditions and treatment methods, but it’s important to include a disclaimer to make it clear that you aren’t suggesting that particular treatment method for every patient. Adding these types of disclaimers protect both your practice and the patient.
When in doubt about whether a particular marketing tactic is ethical, always consult federal and state laws and your practice’s ethical guidelines. If something seems questionable or borderline, it’s probably best to avoid it.