MASSACHUSETTS - PHYSICIAN ADVERTISING AND SOLICITATION

January 1, 2008

Massachusetts state laws and regulations that affect your medical practice

1. What are the restrictions on physician advertising in Massachusetts?

A full licensee may advertise for patients by means which are in the public interest. Advertising which is not in the public interest includes the following:

1. Advertising which is false, deceptive or misleading.

3. Advertising which guarantees a cure.

4. Advertising which makes claims of professional superiority which a licensee cannot substantiate.

243 MA ADC 2.07

2. May a physician advertise prices in Massachusetts?

Yes. A physician may advertise fixed prices, or a stated range of prices, for specified routine professional services. The advertisement must state whether additional charges may be incurred for related services.

243 MA ADC 2.07

3. May a physician advertise on television or radio in Massachusetts?

Yes. The physician must maintain a complete, accurate and reproducible version of the audio and visual contents of the advertising for a period of three years. The physician must also furnish a complete copy of this advertising to the Board upon request. The cost shall be borne by the physician.

243 MA ADC 2.07

4. What information must be included in an advertisement?

The physician must include his name, business address and degree (M.D. or D.O.).

243 MA ADC 2.07

5. May an advertisement include information about degrees from other schools or additional degrees?

A physician may not represent that she holds a degree from a medical school other than that degree which appears on her application for registration and has been verified in accordance with the Board's requirements. If an additional degree is obtained at a later date, it must be verified by the Board.

243 MA ADC 2.07

6. What are the restrictions on the use of the word "physician" in an advertisement?

The title "physician" may not be used unless the person referred to is registered by the board of registration as a physician. This does not apply to "chiropractic physician", "podiatric physician", or "physician assistant", each of which are subject to their own regulations. A person who violates this section shall be punished by a fine of not less than $100 and not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment for not less than 30 days and not more than one year, or by both fine and imprisonment.

M.G.L.A. 112 § 8A

7. What does the American Medical Association have to say about physician advertising?

The official AMA Opinion regarding advertising and publicity provides as follows:

There are no restrictions on advertising by physicians except those that can be specifically justified to protect the public from deceptive practices. A physician may publicize him or herself as a physician through any commercial publicity or other form of public communication (including any newspaper, magazine, telephone directory, radio, television, direct mail, or other advertising) provided that the communication 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.

Because the public can sometimes be deceived by the use of medical terms or illustrations that are difficult to understand, physicians should design the form of communication to communicate the information contained therein to the public in a readily comprehensible manner. Aggressive, high-pressure advertising and publicity should be avoided if they create unjustified medical expectations or are accompanied by deceptive claims. The key issue, however, is whether advertising or publicity, regardless of format or content, is true and not materially misleading.

The communication may include (1) the educational background of the physician, (2) the basis on which fees are determined (including charges for specific services), (3) available credit or other methods of payment, and (4) any other non-deceptive information.

Nothing in this opinion is intended to discourage or to limit advertising and representations which are not false or deceptive within the meaning of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. At the same time, however, physicians are advised that certain types of communications have a significant potential for deception and should therefore receive special attention. For example, testimonials of patients as to the physician's skill or the quality of the physician's professional services tend to be deceptive when they do not reflect the results that patients with conditions comparable to the testimoniant's condition generally receive.

Objective claims regarding experience, competence and the quality of physicians and the services they provide may be made only if they are factually supportable. Similarly, generalized statements of satisfaction with a physician's services may be made if they are representative of the experiences of that physician's patients.

Because physicians have an ethical obligation to share medical advances, it is unlikely that a physician will have a truly exclusive or unique skill or remedy. Claims that imply such a skill or remedy therefore can be deceptive. Statements that a physician has an exclusive or unique skill or remedy in a particular geographic area, if true, however, are permissible. Similarly, a statement that a physician has cured or successfully treated a large number of cases involving a particular serious ailment is deceptive if it implies a certainty of result and creates unjustified and misleading expectations in prospective patients.

Consistent with federal regulatory standards which apply to commercial advertising, a physician who is considering the placement of an advertisement or publicity release, whether in print, radio, or television, should determine in advance that the communication or message is explicitly and implicitly truthful and not misleading. These standards require the advertiser to have a reasonable basis for claims before they are used in advertising. The reasonable basis must be established by those facts known to the advertiser, and those which a reasonable, prudent advertiser should have discovered. Inclusion of the physician's name in advertising may help to assure that these guidelines are being met.

AMA Opinion E-5.02.

Copyright Kern Augustine Conroy and Schoppmann, P.C. Used with permission.