North Carolina Policyholders: Notice to policyholders recently affected by severe weather. 

Don't Overpromise with Word Choice

It's easy to get excited when writing marketing copy. Just watch any infomercial and you'll be inspired to throw out an "Awesome!", or an "Incredible!", or maybe even an "Immediate." Those big, bright adjectives make everything sound a little "extra" great. While you want your practice to stand out, watch the superlatives - even a simple "best" can get you into trouble!

It’s easy to get excited when writing marketing copy. Just watch any infomercial and you’ll be inspired to throw out an “Awesome!”, or an “Incredible!”, or maybe even an “Immediate.” Those big, bright adjectives make everything sound a little “extra” great. While you want your practice to stand out, watch the superlatives - even a simple “best” can get you into trouble! 

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

Concierge medical service MDVIP promised “exceptional doctors, exceptional care and exceptional results” in exchange for a $1,500 annual membership fee. Unfortunately a jury found them 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. 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 fall short of the care in the promise. 

The takeaway:

  • 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, 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.
  • Look for safe alternatives: instead of “Complete” say “Extensive.” Instead of “Eliminate” say “Reduce.” Instead of “Immediately” say “Promptly.” 
  • 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.

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