Ethical ways for physicians to market a practice in 2023

Eunice Victoria, founder of Skills to Grow Africa. [Courtesy]

Just like in the legal profession, traditionally, physicians are expected to abstain from marketing or advertising themselves in order to uphold the value of the profession. The reason is that advertisements are deemed to be misleading and influence potential clients.

In Kenya, this is governed under The Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board Act (Cap 254). Under this Act are the Medical Practitioners and Dentists (Practitioners and Health Facilities) (Advertising)) Rules, 2016, which outline that any advertisement in the profession has to be objective, true, and dignified, be respectful to the ethics of the profession, not attempt to denigrate other practitioners, and not infringe on patient confidentiality.

The rules also state, “A practitioner or health institution registered under the Act shall not directly or indirectly permit and promotion which may be reasonably regarded as calculated to attract patients, clients or business except as provided under these Rules.”

The rules also outline the information that may be advertised, information that may not be included, prohibited means of attracting business, and the effects of not complying with the rules.

In terms of GDP, Kenya’s health sector grew by 5.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2023. The sector also employs thousands of individuals with businesses opening daily. To compete in the highly saturated market, physicians are now seeking creative ways to market their practice.

There are ethical ways that physicians can use to market their practice. First, physicians should hire qualified integrated marketing communication experts who understand the rules. This should be part of the interviewing process.

Secondly, physicians should avoid using influencers who exaggerate their services or actors who give false reviews. In the past, we have seen health organisations using individuals with high online following to give positive reviews about their services. Although influencer marketing has become one of the best marketing tools, it should be done in moderation and influencers should be honest and truthful. Marketers who use public relations as a way of driving sales should be careful to have professional information shared with the media. Information should be well-researched and truthful.

Third, physicians should use appropriate forms of communication to reach the end user. Platforms such as newspapers, digital media platforms, and radio may be acceptable. Actively approaching specific individuals, in person or by phone, with the purpose of attracting them as patients is unethical because the risk of undue pressure from the solicitor is too great.

Fourth, care should be taken when choosing the information appropriate to the form of communication. Exaggerated terms such as ‘Best infertility expert in Nairobi’ may be termed as misleading and designed to attract vulnerable patients.

Finally, medics should adopt integrated marketing communication to improve communication with patients and other stakeholders. When different channels work together, it is easier for patients to receive concise and clear information and the type of solutions it offers. This will bring clarity about the brand and eradicate miscommunication and misunderstanding.

- The author is an integrated marketing communication consultant and founder of Skills to Grow Africa