Most dental practitioners engage in marketing, but it could be used against you. To alleviate risk, preview and approve everything in your advertisements for services.
The Internet allows users to search for dental services. It also allows people other than consumers to investigate your practice. If you apply for business insurance and professional liability coverage, the insurance company’s underwriting team can compare your application to your Web site. Inconsistencies may affect acceptance or the premium. If a patient files a disciplinary complaint, the investigator may compare your onsite marketing materials to your licensing information or the allegations. Finally, if a malpractice claim or lawsuit is made, a savvy plaintiff’s attorney will look at these materials to see if anything may be used against you.
These guidelines will help you engage in appropriate marketing tactics:
- Assure that no marketing materials are ever prepared, posted, or disseminated without your approval. Even if free advertising is provided, you must approve it.
- Record your marketing materials as you do them. If you are involved in a claim, suit, or action, you know what may be known by others. In a lawsuit or disciplinary investigation, there may be helpful, supportive information, but unless a time frame is clear, that information would be of no value.
- Never use marketing materials that advertise your practice beyond the bounds, or at the boundaries for which your license allows. Certain states’ dental-practice statutes are specific about marketing content. Know these statutory limitations.
- Avoid any use of sweeping, definitive language such as “guarantee,” “100 percent satisfaction,” and “gold standard.” Never assure refunds or use this terminology because results cannot be guaranteed and complications or issues which may differ among patients must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The standard of practice is often determined by an expert review of the situation, and blanket claims create an unreasonably high expectation in patients and can set a higher bar than established by law.
- Be mindful of how you may be listed in advertising materials. Do not promote a specialty area of practice if that is not the majority of your work.
- Be aware that your answering machine/hold service messages may be used in investigations or lawsuits, as can brochures, business cards, and Yellow Pages ads.
- Do not promote something that you cannot deliver or that may not show you in a positive light. For example, do not advertise the most updated technologies if you cannot assure this.
- Never oversell your qualifications. Be accurate.
- Establish a timely review of your marketing materials so that if there are changes to your practice or in your qualifications, marketing materials are changed. For example, if your materials say you are the president of a professional association, be sure that when your term ends your marketing materials reflect that you are a past president.
In conclusion, be sure your marketing materials accurately reflect you, your background, and your practice. Inaccurate, untimely, or misleading information and false promises can create problems in otherwise defensible matters. Accuracy and attention to detail in all areas of practice will assist in the alleviation of risk issues.
Linda J. Hay, JD
Hay is a partner at Alholm Monahan Klauke Hay Oldenburg, LLC in Chicago. She graduated from The John Marshall Law School in 1986 and has defended dental professionals for more than 15 years. She may be reached at [email protected].