Health

Pay heed to health regulator’s advertising rules: Mietkiewicz

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Health-care professionals should educate themselves on their regulators’ advertising rules before making claims about their practice, says Burlington health lawyer Cathi Mietkiewicz.

The CBC recently reported on an investigation by the College of Naturopathic Physicians of British Columbia into alleged misleading advertising by members. Meanwhile, the president of a prominent audiology practice agreed to stop making scientifically unfounded health claims about the benefits of hearing aids, according to the same news outlet.

“Some professions are more prone to issues than others, but advertising can be a huge problem for many of health regulators,” Mietkiewicz, principal of Mietkiewicz Law, tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“The biggest takeaway for me is that professionals need to know what their regulator allows in terms of advertising,” she adds, explaining that each regulatory body will have its policies and standards of practice posted to its website.

“Anyone who is not sure can inquire with their regulatory body or consult with a lawyer to ascertain they’re in compliance,” Mietkiewicz says. “Regulators, for their part, need to make sure their policies and regulations are clear so that their members don’t have any trouble understanding them, and ensure that the rules are being communicated adequately to professionals.”

According to the CBC story, the marketing materials of the audiology business — which has 50 outlets across B.C. — suggested that hearing loss causes dementia and that treating issues, including with hearing aids, can prevent cognitive impairment.

While there is evidence that hearing loss and cognitive decline may be correlated, the College of Speech and Hearing Health Professionals of B.C. told the CBC that its members are barred from suggesting a direct causal link.

In a college resolution signed by the president of the company, he agreed to stop claiming that hearing aids can prevent dementia, and to remove similar references from publicly available marketing materials.

“Making claims about the efficacy of a particular treatment with no scientific basis is one of the biggest issues in this area,” Mietkiewicz says. “The other big issue is that many regulatory bodies prohibit their professionals from advertising testimonials from patients, but their members are not always aware of that restriction.”

Unauthorized testimonials were a focus of the naturopathic college’s advertising crackdown, which led to the investigation of 27 of its members. Other alleged violations detected in the enforcement drive, which the CBC said was prompted by its reports on autism treatments offered by naturopaths, included unsupported claims of specialism and unverified assertions about certain treatments.

While news stories on advertising breaches are not great publicity for the health professionals involved, Mietkiewicz says they also represent an opportunity for regulatory bodies.

“It’s a chance not only to deal with that particular matter but also highlight the issue to other registrants,” she says. “If one person is non-compliant, there’s a good chance others are doing it too.”

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