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Avoid legal pitfalls in medical practice marketing

Gaining the right to practice medicine takes a lot of time, money and effort. Having cleared all the hurdles, maintaining the practice can be like walking on stilts. Myriad issues can surface from unexpected quarters, and if just one knocks a stilt from under you, it could be the end of your career as a doctor or nurse. Strong defense of your licensure may be required.

Accusations of malpractice, delivery of poor care, or inappropriate interaction with patients get the most media attention. What gets less press, but which can be just as devastating, is when someone levels charges of breaching medical ethics. Such allegations don't even always deal with your practice of medicine. Legal missteps in marketing and advertising can put a Wisconsin practitioner in the sanction crosshairs.

Issues to avoid

One of the first things many health care industry pundits suggest for doctors and nurses is preventive in nature. Seek legal advice before you launch a marketing strategy to avoid getting into hot water. Other conservative and practical recommendations include:

  • Avoid unsupportable claims. It might be stating the obvious but truth in advertising about potential outcomes of treatment is a virtue. Also, if you claim to be a specialist, have the recognized certification to back it up.
  • Honor patient privacy. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act safeguards patient privacy. It includes some 18 categories of personal health information that someone could leverage to identify a patient in violation of HIPPA. Rather than using actual information about an individual case in marketing, consider creating a fictional composite case study.
  • Manage patient expectations. You have heard the disclaimer, "results may vary." This is important to convey to prospective patients. Making claims of superiority over the competition or promising specific outcomes could be hazardous to your career health.
  • Keep the focus on the provider. Drugs and medical devices play important roles in medical care. If you advertise specific products, which later turn out to be defective, some share of liability could extend to you. Advertise the practitioner.
  • Ensure marketing works broadly. Know the rules of your state, but recognize that in the online world there are no boundaries for your message. Rules vary state to state, so compliance care is required.

Wherever doubt exists, confer with skilled legal counsel.

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