stethWhile on my way to a meeting with a prospective client, I came across a couple of hospitals. They reminded me of a few hospital adverts on TV – vernacular television, to be specific. These ads had models (that I recall seeing selling tea, condoms and pressure cookers, among other products) posing as doctors and generally acting as if they care for the aged eye patients who had come to their hospital.

My tweet then was, ‘Aren’t hospitals barred from advertising? Saw an ad for an eye hospital & another for a general hospital on Sun TV. Can docs advertise too?

Interesting responses followed.

  1. fatima2504: Nope. Doctors and Lawyers are barred from Advertising. I read that too
  2. labnol: I think they’re allowed to advertise. Once saw an hospital ad that said “we hope you’ll never need us but just in case..”
  3. prolificd: I think they are. You can advertise what services you provide. But no comparison. I think that prescription drugs can’t b advt
  4. Anita_Lobo: docs can’t advertise. Hospitals can
  5. prolificd: But I have seen dentist adverts. Handbills too.
  6. LizaSaha: Apollo also advertises a lot
  7. technolabsin: what is the span of this advertising ban ? think google ads are being exploited by healthcare professionals
  8. rohind: Not sure if hospitals can too,
  9. technolabsin: we have also seen hospitals advertising their health check plans (assorted ones) in print media
  10. sarmishtha: i don’t think doctors..medicines and hospitals are allowed 2 advertise..they h/w bend rules & do it..#sowrong
  11. gloliter: but hospitals advertise docs in the garb of by announcing doc appointments
  12. pradeepaj: docs can advertise as long as they dnt make statements like “Magical remedy” etc in thr communication
  13. abhilash: I remember seeing in Munich, that close to 2 out of 3 ads in train stations were about doctors! Seemed very odd.
  14. Anita_Lobo: Hospitals do surrogate advtg aka public interest campaigns
  15. prolificd: some time ago, they were toying with putting barbershop style rate-lists in Bombay hospitals.
  16. bluethroat: Q. How do you decide on a doc? On seeing a flashy advert or on someone’s recommendation?

Regardless of laws governing advertising by doctors or hospitals, would doctors engaging about their profession on social networks amount to advertising?

It would amount to marketing, but consider this – doctors are usually chosen by recommendation and not by advertising. They are almost always selected based on some kind of word-of-mouth, unless you happen to be in some sort of grave urgency. So, why not use relevant social media tools to build credibility, help people in his/ her locality and make a mark?

Yes, they may not have much time in their hand, but imagine a pediatrician blogging about common problems in young children as per the season. I also agree that it’d be very area-specific, given how crowded our cities have become and how we choose doctors from our areas for easier access. But a doctor helping people in general online could use that as a strategic advantage over other, similar doctors in is/ her area.

On a bigger scale, hospitals can pull this off far easily given their strength. Know of any hospital marketing their services/ USPs online? Or know any doctor using social media for professional reasons and not just for personal contacts?

This piece – Should hospitals be allowed to advertise – written by a (then) HR trainee in a hospital is detailed enough and explains the pros and cons of allowing advertising for medical professionals/ hospitals.

And this one – Doctors, hospitals can no longer advertise – talks about a state-level diktat against advertising. There’s a line within a quote in this article that says, ‘…doctors cannot publish their photographs, write articles with the intention of luring patients…‘. Would this article-business be restricted to print media alone? How about blogs or social networks?

Related reading: From Rohit Bhargava (Ogilvy) – How doctors are using social media, though it addresses a more D2D (Doctor 2 Doctor!) method that helps doctors build on their professional networks and share opinions/ decisions with other doctors. My thought is from the point of a doctor as a provider of a service (extremely valuable, no doubt, but a service nonetheless) and customer (patient, here). And how the service provider could use social media to reach out to, influence, impress and build on a network of consumers.

But this post, by one of the most popular blogs for healthcare professionals, KevinMD, nails it. It says, “More patients will be searching for doctors and hospitals via search engines, and being active in blogs, Facebook and Twitter allows you to define your online reputation. Going forward, this will be one of the more important reasons why doctors, nurses, and medical institutions should have a robust social media presence“.

The question again – would this be considered advertising and cost the doctor his/ her medical council membership?

Incidentally, today’s issue of The Times of India has a piece in the business page that covers another aspect of this topic – ‘Pharma biggies disclose payments made to doctors‘!

Picture courtesy: van_thanh2910 via Flickr


  • Dr. K M Cherian seems to be at the forefront in India, when it comes to intelligent use of social media – here’s his blog and twitter profile!



9 thoughts on “Doctors using social media – would it be considered advertising?

  1. Pharma companies cosying up to doctors is old hat. Every one does it. And its a give and take on both sides.

    The question is when does this cosy relationship impinge on patient welfare?

    The harsh truth is that it does, everyday.

    The US has documented reports of avoidable surgeries. In India, all of us have heard anecdotes about greedy doctors. And its not just big surgeries, but routine stuff like vaccines [scare parents – inject vaccines that are avoidable (30-50% margin btw) – sounds familiar?]

    So the solution IS to go online and cross-check what you’re being told – just as you would for any other service. Especially if you’re being advised surgery.

    Three points on the other side of the story:

    – social media can be used to mislead people, as much as traditional advertising or marketing does – so who plays watchdog?

    – social media also provides an avenue for doctors/ medical professionals [who go solo, to avoid the corrupt establishment] to raise awareness of alternative best practices, that usually are preventive and non-invasive therefore unpopular with the hospital-commission crowd.

    – as a doctor if i have invested 10 years of the prime of my life is learning a difficult trade, why shouldn’t I be allowed to make people aware that I am a better practitioner?

    Does this sound like a rant, I guess so! 🙂


  2. To answer the last 3 points in your comment,
    – exactly!
    – exactly!
    – exactly!

    On docs using social media, I do understand the high levels of trust in this industry, but they should be entitled to treat their TA the way other industries do and build a connect. But your point on a watchdog is critical – it can also be misused so someone needs to check. Who will…is a question.

  3. Firstly, very nice post. However, the point about having a watchdog is,like you said, critical! When I read through the post, I drew parallels with the education industry. Many universities/colleges/institutions have shammed their way into getting students to enroll.

    Subtlety is the key here. A doctor who pushes his wares is bound to get hurt. However, if he were to educate the public on diseases, prevention etc (Read: community building 101) it would be touted a charitable act.

    People are swayed easily by media…

  4. Good food for thought.

    Enough food for thought that I had to write my own article about some of the impacts I’ve seen around regulation and social media.

    I believe we are going to be seeing some extremely interesting impacts as questions like yours cross over both the social and legal boundaries of the term “advertising.”

    In the medical field specifically: it has been a shocking note over ten years of dealing with it that so many medical practitioners and hospitals are not aware of what they can or cannot do online.

  5. Vivek/ Barry/ Daniel: Good point. I believe the problem stems from the fact that practicing medical profession is not seen as a ‘business’ in the traditional sense. So then, should docs promote themselves for getting more ‘business’ (here, patients)? And is such advertising/ promotion (a) ethical (b) legally allowed?

    Having a larger body set the rules would surely help. I’m of the opinion that, like any other service, medical practitioners should get an opportunity to communicate their vision, success, experiences. A governing body could decide on the framework and address specific acts that are wrong.

  6. Karthik – I agree that some form of governing body needs to lead a framework for the medical profession (and several other regulated industries).

    In my mind, the main problem revolves around the facet that health professionals are individuals. As the “brand me” trend continues and every other person becomes virtual…. how are doctors expected to separate professional vs personal statements when NO ONE ELSE needs to.

    Example: if I am a plumber, I can say “I’m the best, my job is awesome, my team is awesome, come use us”

    If a doctor says the same thing… they could be seeing legal or industry kickback.

    Once we consider that point, how is a medical professional expected to retain ownership of a statement? If a doctor can’t do it, but the spouse blogs everyday saying how wonderful they are… who is advertising whom?

    If we assume that every medical professional has 10 to 25 close personal friends / family online, the regulation of legality and ethics becomes significant.

  7. Nice post!
    Even in life ,its the word of mouth or “kai raaShi” as they say that determines a Docto’s or a hospital’s buisness. But something very funny is happening on twitter. medical students in their secod or third year are building their fan base.That helps comfort levels somehwhere between the doctor and a patient.I talk from a non-intellectual pov,but u must’ have observed that in soc netw sites people (common ppl and celebs) ask advice for which phone to buy,what car to buy(including celebs)and al advertising fails and people credible experience rules.So buying behaviour for any product is influenced with a lot of real examples.So in fact doctors using social media should not be considered advertising.Whether critics trash a movie or praise it to the skies,once u see the comments on you tube vedios u will know what the truth is. Exactly.
    But yes one can’t say that all one reads in social media sites is a saufi sadi sach !It may look ambiguos!

  8. zaara: Medical students using social media while in is a very interesting insight! Wonder if they’d be allowed to continue once they graduate!

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