Advertisers who refer to themselves as “Dr”, “a doctor” or similar, should take care not to imply that they hold a general medical qualification if they do not. The need for clarity is greatest when marketers are making health-related claims and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has taken a tough line on marketers calling themselves ‘Dr’ in the context of health.
The ASA and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) understand that since 1995 the General Dental Council (GDC) had permitted its members to use the title “Dr”, provided it is clear that it is a courtesy title only and it is not otherwise implied that they are qualified to carry out medical procedures.
In 2014, the ASA considered an ad for an alternative health practitioner who used the “Dr” title and referred to his previous work as a dental surgeon. The ASA understood that because the practitioner was not on the GDC register at that time, the use of the courtesy title was not permitted. As such, the ASA ruled that the use of the “Dr” title, alongside other medical references, gave the misleading impression that the advertiser was a qualified medical doctor and a practising dentist, when that was not the case (Integral Health Ltd, t/a Dr Sam 11 June 2014).
In 2013, the ASA investigated claims on a dentist’s website which stated “Welcome to the Woodvale Clinic Dr. John W. Stowell L.D.S R.C.S. (Eng) B.D.S F.D.S R.C.S (Edin) G.D.C. Registered Specialist in Oral Surgery”.
Whilst the marketer was GDC registered and was entitled to use the courtesy title, the ASA ruled that, without clearly qualifying the title to make clear that “Dr” was a courtesy title and without stating that a general medical qualification was not held, the use of that title was misleading (Woodvale Clinic, 22 May 2013).
The safest and simplest way to avoid confusing consumers is to avoid the “Dr” title unless a general medical qualification is held.
CAP recommends that if marketers do decide to use the “Dr” title in advertising, they ensure they are on the GDC register and should clearly and prominently qualify the use of that title with a statement that makes clear it is a courtesy title and that a general medical qualification is not held.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA.
CAP’s Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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