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A simple advertising word choice could be costly

When marketing your dental practice, you likely want to stand out - and above - your competition. You want people to know you're "the best" and that they can expect "exceptional care" from you; however, you may not want to use those exact words or other superlatives that may inflate patient expectations.

When marketing your dental practice, you likely want to stand out - and above - your competition. You want people to know you're "the best" and that they can expect "exceptional care" from you; however, you may not want to use those exact words or other superlatives that may inflate patient expectations.

When people rely on claims you make in your advertising — whether in printed materials, in radio ads, or with electronic communications such as emails and websites — you are exposing yourself to potential professional liability risk if something unforeseen or unintentional happens. The results, if inconsistent with your marketing information, may lead to allegations of a breach of expressed or implied warranty of care. 

Just recently, a jury found concierge medical service MDVIP responsible for fraud and false advertising, and awarded $8.5 million to the estate of a Boca Raton, Fla., resident whose leg was amputated as a result of MDVIP’s failure to deliver the quality medical services promised to its members. MDVIP promised “exceptional doctors, exceptional care and exceptional results” in exchange for a $1,500 annual membership fee.  The plaintiff’s attorney successfully argued that the implied promise far surpassed the level of “reasonable care.” Using this elevated and subjective wording made virtually any result that turned out less than ideal to fall short of the care in the promise.

The takeaway from all of this:

  • Health-related promotional efforts are held to a high ethical and legal standard.
  • False and/or exaggerated claims in advertising are illegal under federal law.
  • State consumer protection statutes, which vary widely from state to state, also regulate advertising and may have additional rules.
  • When it comes to marketing efforts, you may want to create a planning and review process that includes legal consultation.
  • Avoid superlatives and phrases such as “painless,” “best care,” “expert care,” “highest quality,” “optimal results,” and “permanent results” among others.
  • Exercise caution when publicizing success rates to ensure you have a factual and scientific basis for any numbers you may use.

For more information on professional liability and risk management for your dental practice, contact PSIC today at 1-800-864-8026.

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