*updated Oct 2022
What is the General Medical Council (GMC)?
The General Medical Council (GMC) is a public body that maintains the official register of medical practitioners in the UK. They work to protect patient safety and support medical education and practice. Currently, there are more than 340,000 doctors on the UK medical register. If you want to practice medicine in the UK, you must be registered with the GMC. If you’re looking to set up a private practice, you will also need to fully understand the GMC guidelines for marketing and advertising your private medical services.
GMC Guidelines for Marketing Private Medical Services
The GMC has rigorous guidelines for the marketing of private medical services. These include the requirements that marketing must be:
- Both factual and verifiable
- Compliant with the law issued by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA)
Following ASA Codes
The key principles of the ASA’s British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion mean that all ads should be legal, decent, honest and truthful (rule 1.1), be prepared with a sense of responsibility towards consumers and society (rule 1.3) and adhere to the principles of fair competition (rule 1.6).
If you’re a doctor running a private clinic, then it’s your responsibility to ensure any advertising observes the Codes.
No unjustifiable claims can be made about the service quality, and no guarantees of cures can be made, particularly where patients can be misled because of their vulnerability, or because they lack the necessary medical knowledge to make a qualified assessment of what is on offer.
Additionally, private healthcare marketing must not pressurise patients to use the service – and this includes activities such as outbound marketing to prospective patients. There are also specific guidelines related to digital marketing channels, such as social media, which need to be understood and followed carefully.
Additionally, there are very specific rules for health and beauty products, therapies, and also for slimming products. Claims made about health-related products need to be evidence-based, and ads must not suggest a product is safe or effective because it is natural.
Exploiting patient vulnerability – case studies
Although it is not illegal to market your private practice, the GMC advises that any information you publish “must not make unjustifiable claims about the quality of your services. It must not, in any way, offer guarantees of cures nor exploit patients’ vulnerability or lack of medical knowledge.”
A recent example can be drawn from the Covid-19 pandemic, whereby some doctors were thought to be making hundreds of thousands of pounds selling private coronavirus tests. The GMC raised concerns that some doctors were “exploiting patients’ vulnerability” after a physician in London made a £1.7m profit selling £2.5m worth of Covid tests in less than a week.
Another instance whereby a doctor took advantage of patient vulnerability was misdiagnosing children with cancer, aiming to scare parents into paying for expensive private treatment. The GMC takes a tough stance on doctors exploiting patients for profits, and doctors are required to be open and honest about any financial arrangements with patients. Doctors must be transparent about fees and charges before gaining consent to treatment. Doctors must be able to demonstrate that patients are not put under any pressure to accept private treatment.
The challenges of advertising private medical practices
The reality is that private healthcare marketing can be complex and time-consuming, and heavy penalties are levied on those organisations that fail to comply. As well as adhering to regulatory constraints, good marketing requires an in-depth understanding of target audiences and methods of engaging with them in a compliant, engaging and cost-effective way. Healthcare marketers need to be able to define the service proposition and benefits, the added value and the reasons for choosing the service over the competition. They also need to then be able to deliver a constant programme of defined activity and measure its success for ROI.
The value of outsourced agency support
Most new practices prefer not to maintain the cost of permanent in-house marketing resources and value the expertise and sector knowledge that a specialist healthcare marketing agency can offer, with deep industry knowledge and a wide, expert team that spans all areas of digital strategy, management and delivery.
Your trusted digital partner for the healthcare sector
At Medico Digital, we are your trusted partners for healthcare marketing. We provide expert digital marketing services for the healthcare sector, providing impactful solutions to your communication challenges and combining strategy, creative and technical expertise to deliver measurable results to our clients.
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