It wasn’t that long ago that most advertising efforts in dentistry were considered to be unethical. Some dentists still hold this belief. But, for the rest of us, marketing can absolutely be as ethical as it is effective. Here's some quick advice on how to keep your marketing efforts positive and ethical.
It wasn’t that long ago that most of our marketing efforts were considered to be unethical. The prevailing opinion was that dentists are professionals, and we shouldn’t stoop to advertising to attract patients. Patients should find us based on our clinical prowess and our reputation in the community—not because we took out an ad in the local paper. No doubt you can still find dentists who firmly hold this belief. But, for the rest of us, marketing can absolutely be as ethical as it is effective.
So, when does marketing cross the line? According to the American Dental Association’s Code of Professional Conduct, Section 5—Veracity, dentists cannot communicate “in a manner that is false or misleading.” (1) The Code goes on to describe what “false or misleading” can mean, and ultimately leaves it to the discretion of the ADA body that is reviewing a complaint. Indeed, this kind of wiggle room is necessary, as a comprehensive list of unethical marketing practices would lead us into grammatical minutiae.
Surely, it would be inappropriate to state in an advertisement that you are the “best dentist in town,” but could you say that you are the only one with accreditation from a particular professional association? Assuming your claim to be the only accredited dentist in town isn’t false or misleading, the manner in which you make such a statement might still be in poor taste. No doubt there is a gray area here.
Here is some quick advice to keep your marketing efforts positive:
- Avoid superlatives. We are members of a noble profession, not cutthroat merchants. Criticizing other dentists, even by passive implication, brings us all down.
- Minimize fee discussions and coupons. Although there is nothing outright unethical about advertising discounted fees or free services, I have a couple of concerns. First, you will likely be attracting bargain shoppers and not loyal patients. Second, in my opinion, advertising fees contributes to the commoditization of our services.
As for making your marketing more successful, well, read on, my friends. We frequently cover this subject, thanks to authors such as Joy Gendusa and Kristie Nation. Marketing is an important system in the modern practice. If you follow the above advice and the ADA Code, then you’ll likely remain in ethical territory. But more importantly, you’ll help maintain our profession’s integrity.
Chris Salierno, DDS
1. American Dental Association Council on Ethics, Bylaws, and Judicial Affairs. Principles of Ethics & Code of Professional Conduct. http://www.ada.org/~/media/ADA/Member%20Center/FIles/2016_ADA_Code_Of_Ethics.pdf?la=en. Updated November 2016. Accessed July 5, 2017.