A brief history of advertising by physicians


Believe it or not, advertising of services by Doctors was not only frowned upon, but considered illegal in many instances. What changed that? A case brought by a lawyer (Bates v. State Bar of Arizona) who sued the state bar which was at that time prohibiting all advertising. It worked it's way up to the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) who sided with the plaintiff and ruled that while states may regulate some aspects of advertising, "...a blanket prohibition against advertising by attorneys was unconstitutional as a violation of the first amendment."

(If your a political junkie like me)It's interesting that the SCOTUS is currently poised to strike down the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (aka the "McCain-Feingold act") legislation restricting corporate-funded campaign advertising in print and television on similar first amendment grounds after a challenge was heard last week in Washington.




After Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, the American Medical Association adjusted their Code of Medical Ethics position suggesting that there be no restrictions except those "justified to protect the public from deceptive practices....(and that) communications shall not be misleading because of the omission of necessary material information, shall not contain any false or misleading statement, or shall not otherwise operate to deceive" (the current statement can be read here)

Advertising has exploded in Plastic Surgery and related fields in cosmetic medicine. At this point there is little regulation about how your advertise your expertise and skills. Like we've seen over and over in the media, there are case where complications after cosmetic surgery occur and the patient contends that they were led to believe their doctor was a Plastic Surgeon. I highlighted a few cases last year involving scope of practice issues involving Ear, Nose, & Throat (ENT) surgeons doing breast & body surgery called "ENT (ear,nose, & thighlifts?)" and "A monster in Munster...". At least those instances involved surgeons of some kind as opposed to the radio-station contest featuring an ER doctor on probation doing breast I talked about in April. click here.

This argument of misrepresenting one's training frequently becomes an element of claims in malpractice cases under fraud or failure to accurately give informed consent.

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