New State Law Seeks to Clarify Medical Advertising

A new state law will force health care institutions to more clearly spell out in their advertising whether the providers they promote are full-fledged medical doctors or some “lesser” form of health professional.

That is the apparent impact of Senate Bill 2670 slated to take effect July 1. Under the “Patient’s Right to Informed Health Care Choices Act” a great deal of health care marketing by hospitals, clinics and others will be impacted statewide. Both houses of the Legislature passed the measure with overwhelming support and it was signed into law without much fanfare.

The law requires health care providers to clearly spell out what licenses they hold. Because health care institutions promote the professionals on their team, they too must comply.

“With the expansion of different medical providers in the marketplace, patients have a hard time distinguishing between a medical doctor, registered nurse, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant and others,” said Sen. Brice Wiggins, one of the act’s legislative sponsors in a recent news account. “In fact, the day after we filed this bill, somebody e-mailed me a … ad that, if you read it, would make you think it was an MD, when in actuality it’s a nurse practitioner. Not that there’s anything wrong with nurse practitioners, but people need to know what level of services are being provided.”

Under the new law, “advertisement” means any communication or statement, whether printed, electronic or oral, that names the health care practitioner in relation to his or her practice, profession, or institution in which the individual is employed, volunteers or otherwise provides health care services. This includes business cards, letterhead, patient brochures, e-mail, Internet, audio and video, and any other communication or statement used in the course of business or any other definition provided by regulations of the respective licensing board.

Basically, it applies to most health care marketing.

As an example, an advertisement for a hospital system-owned clinic that features their physicians would have to include information on the type of medical licenses they hold.

Should a health care institution run afoul of the new regulations, it is the health care professionals they promoted who face discipline or loss of certification by their state licensure boards. Additionally, they could be forced by a court to stop the advertising and could have to repay the fees patients paid them. This includes third parties contracted to collect fees on behalf of the health care practitioner, the health care practitioner’s employer, or other entity contracting with the health care practitioner.

An advertisement for health care services that names a health care practitioner must identify the type of license held according to the definitions provided in the act. Specifically, the law applies to the marketing of:

  • medical doctors,
  • surgeons,
  • osteopathic surgeons,
  • doctor of osteopathy,
  • doctor of osteopathic medicine
  • doctorate of nursing,
  • nurse practitioners,
  • registered nurses,
  • licensed practical nurses,
  • certified registered nurse anesthetists,
  • podiatrists,
  • doctors of podiatry,
  • podiatric surgeons,
  • doctors of podiatric medicine
  • chiropractors,
  • doctors of chiropractic
  • chiropractic physicians
  • dentists
  • doctors of dental surgery,
  • doctors of dental medicine,
  • optometrists,
  • doctors of optometry,
  • physician assistants,
  • medical assistants,
  • audiologists,
  • doctors of audiology
  • psychologists
  • therapists,
  • speech-language pathologists and
  • counselors.

According to the law, there is a compelling state interest in patients being promptly and clearly informed of the actual training and qualifications of their health care practitioners. This act aims to “provide public protection against potentially misleading and deceptive health care advertising that cause patients to have undue expectations regarding their medical treatments and outcomes.”

While more and more healthcare institutions are choosing to enhance their identity by marketing the professionals that practice within their walls, it seems they just got splattered with another layer of state regulation as a result. It’s a shame that this veiled effort to curtail the growth of nurse practitioners, will possibly end up hurting the very professionals it was designed to benefit.


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