If I were to ask you, what do you think doctors do? Is it a) to diagnose ailments, b) treat patients or c) to advertise. You affirmably say about diagnosing and treating patients but not about advertising just not with doctors but with other professionals such as Advocates, Chartered Accountants, Architects. This debate over doctor’s advertisement surfaces, when action is taken by the Medical Council of India or Respective State’s Medical Councils.
In May,2020 the Tamil Nadu Medical Council sent a circular to deans of all medical colleges and other medical associations asking all registered medical practitioners(RMP) to refrain from online advertisements. Similarly in January, 2020 Travancore Cochin Council of Modern Medicine (TCMC) had censored 11 registered doctors for unethical acts under 6.1.2.
Soliciting of patients directly or indirectly by a physician, by a group of physicians or by institutions or organisations is unethical under the clause 6.1 of Medical Council of India (MCI) Rules and Regulations of 2002. Also clause 6.1.2 makes it unethical of Printing of self photograph, or any such material of publicity in the letterhead or on the sign board of the consulting room or any such clinical establishment shall be regarded as acts of self advertisement. Which Maharashtra Medical Council has reiterated in simpler words “No doctor can make high claims about any procedure.” The Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954 also prohibits advertisements by doctors in any media.
Is something allowed then?
However, chapter 6 permits the formal announcement in press regarding the following:
Clause 7.12 permits an institution run by a Doctor for a particular purpose such as a maternity home, nursing home, private hospital, rehabilitation centre or any type of training institution can be advertised mentioning the name of the institution, type of patients admitted, type of training and other facilities offered and the fees. Likewise a clinic should contain only name, qualifications, name of medical college, name of university, titles and name of speciality, and state medical council registration number.
Heads and Tails of Doctors’ Advertisement
Advertisement is a means of effective communication made to a public. It effectively conveys the product quality in a shorter period of time. Throughout the generations advertising is as important as the quality of product. Just that in this era media and social media advertising has taken precedence over word of mouth advertisement.
If advertising has an effect on how we consume products or services, then professionals should also be allowed to advertise by bringing effective amendments in their respective statutes. This will especially help those professionals who are starting their practice, as it is difficult to convey their skills and expertise to their patients. The professionals like young doctors, who take loans to start practice, cannot sit back and wait for patients. The burden of monthly installments push these talented minds to resort to unethical practices like cuts and kick-backs.
As said earlier advertisement is a communication, if doctors are informing patients about their skills through advertisement in an open and transparent manner, then this type of professional advertisement should be allowed.
On the flip side, other than malpractices in advertisements it’s about maintaining status quo in favour of senior doctors – those who have an established reputation, with many hospital attachments and lots of patients. These same doctors are the ” medical establishment”, which sets the rules for all doctors.
The US Supreme Court also held that under the First Amendment Protection Act ( the guarantee of the right of free speech), the professionals have the right to professional advertising. The court remarked that not allowing doctors to advertise was unfair to them – and also unfair to patients, who need access to information on doctors, so they can select the best for themselves. After this American Medical Association had laid down guidelines for ethical advertising by physicians, and these guidelines permit physician advertising provided it is not false, deceptive or fraudulent.
The Amicable Ground
One may argue that advertising has its own dark areas such as fraudulent advertising, misleading advertising which can be effectively mitigated by bringing an act to make “The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)” a regulatory body. Also Consumer Protection Act 2019, provides a solution for such advertisements.
The medical practitioner as well as other professionals should be allowed to advertise within frame work rules prescribed by their respective Councils. As consumers have consumer right to protection and right to communication under article 19 of Indian Constitution, similarly the professionals have the right to profession and right to communication. The archaic Medical Council Rules, 2002 should be changed to keep up with the times as Medical Council of India Act, 1956 is replaced by the The National Medical Commission Act, 2019.
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