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Doctors in Kenya, to advertise or not?

By Kizito Lubano | February 10th 2016

NAIROBI: Doctors in Kenya will, starting next month, be allowed to market their services. This comes as part of regulatory measures taken in the wake of the referral-for-cash scandal reported in the media a few weeks ago.

Although the adverse implications of physician advertising are the subject of a fierce and sustained debate, there is almost no scholarly discussion on the ethical repercussions of banning physician advertising. However, the issues that have held this ban in place include: Uncertainty about the physician’s interests - that patients must trust the physician to put their wellbeing ahead of possible gains when taking medical decisions.

Another issue has been uncertainty about alternative treatments - that patients must trust in the physician’s treatment decisions and lastly, uncertainty about the exclusive patient-physician relationship - that patients must develop and maintain a good relationship with one physician.

Although, medical practice, like any business, is in constant search of new customers. The fact is, a medical practice cannot be promoted in the same manner as any other type of business. And although it seems obvious that physicians should be truthful in their advertisements, it is not always clear what might be viewed as false, deceptive, or misleading. The key issue, however, is whether advertising or publicity, regardless of format or content, is true and not materially misleading.

Perhaps we should borrow a leaf from guidelines issued by the American Medical Association whose code of ethics has served its members as a guideline since the mid 1840’s. It states that this form of communication must include:

The physician’s educational background, the basis on which fees are determined (including charges for specific services),  available credit or other methods of payment and provision of any other non-deceptive information.

In particular, the AMA warns about using testimonials of patients as a pointer to the physician’s skill or the quality of the physician’s professional services since such testimonials can be deceptive.

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