Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/19)
Health, Regulatory

Regulatory bodies’ role in policing professional designations

When medical practitioners tout false or misleading information about their professional designations, it puts the public at risk, Burlington health lawyer Cathi Mietkiewicz tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Mietkiewicz, principal of Mietkiewicz Law, frequently advises regulators on a variety of issues and has assisted professional colleges in interpreting and creating advertising policies that ensure those in medical-related fields accurately reflect their professional credentials.

“Title protection exists for good reason — to inform the public and avoid confusion. It’s not to create a monopoly or elevate the person somehow,” she says.

A recent news story, which involved a newly elected councilwoman in B.C. who was accused of misleading advertising in her campaign material, illustrates this point, Mietkiewicz says.

The naturopath advertised herself as a “community physician,” reports CBC. A complaint was subsequently filed with the College of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C., alleging she contravened the college's advertising policy, which states, “The designation ‘naturopathic physician’ must be used each time.”

“She’s not saying she isn’t a naturopath or that she is a medical doctor,” Mietkiewicz says. “She’s leaving it a bit grey, so it’s not clear what kind of doctor she is. Most people wouldn’t think of a naturopath when they see the term ‘community physician.’ That one is a little bit borderline.”

All of the naturopathic colleges in the Prairie provinces and Ontario have regulatory bodies that oversee title designations, CBC reports. But, rules of advertising can vary, depending on the province.

Legislation notwithstanding, this type of advertising has the potential to be misinterpreted by the public, Mietkiewicz says.

“For example, the fact that a naturopath can use ‘Dr.’ in front of their name has the potential to confuse laypeople,” she says. “This is not dissimilar to chiropractors or optometrists who can call themselves ‘doctor,’ and there is a belief in the general public that it means they went to medical school — which they didn’t.”

Mietkiewicz says it’s not only titles that can mislead, but it can also include proposed treatments that are advertised by health-care professionals. 

“Within some non-medical practitioners, there are times they make claims that they can cure various ailments, where there is no evidence they can,” she cautions.

Some chiropractors, for example, have even gone as far as to claim they can cure autism, Mietkiewicz says.

“If a provincial regulator of chiropractors becomes aware of it, disciplinary action or license revocation are possibilities, depending on the gradation, and repetition, of the transgression,” she says. “This is for acting outside their scope of practice or treating something that they know they can’t treat. It would fall under a ‘breach of the code of ethics’ and/or standards of practice.”

The public should also beware of advertisements that have read-between-the-lines implications, such as inviting patients to come for a ‘consult,’ if they are suffering from various diseases or terminal illnesses, Mietkiewicz says.

“If you have cancer, maybe the chiropractor doesn’t suggest he can cure it, but that he can help with some of the discomforts from treatment. That’s very different, but it’s a strange hook to use,” she notes. “An advertisement like that can certainly suggest they can do more than that.”

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