Guidelines for health-care ads outdated, under review

Guidelines for health-care ads outdated, under review

SINGAPORE The Ministry of Health (MOH) is now reviewing its publicity regulations under the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act.

This is in view of the evolving media landscape, which has brought up grey areas that are not covered by the Act, The Straits Times (ST) reported.

At present, health-care institutions are required to state only factual information in ads, and are not allowed to frame information in a manner that amounts to soliciting or encouraging the use of their services, a MOH spokesman told ST.

As such, using words and phrases like 'best', 'discounts', 'preferential rates' and 'valid for (time frame)' is considered flouting the advertising guidelines.

Health-care instituitions are also not allowed to carry statements like 'state-of-the-art' and 'Singapore's No. 1'. Before and after photographs are also not allowed as they encourage the use of the services advertised.

However, the health-care industry has changed a lot since and the Act is "outdated," noted Assistant Professor Angela Mak of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University

For example, the rise of online and social media platforms has blurred the line between marketing and providing health information, she said .

Prof Mak also brought up the practice of paying bloggers to "review" health products and services, as well as health-care institutions soliciting 'likes' from employees or friends for their Facebook pages.

Advertorials would be another practice that falls under the grey area, she said.

Advertorials are paid advertisements which are designed to look like journalistic articles.

A MOH spokesman told ST that they have already consulted several stakeholders, including professional bodies and health-care businesses, as part of the review.

The review comes in the footsteps of the Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) review of their ethical code and guidelines, which was announced last month.

SMC regulates the conduct and ethics of doctors in Singapore, and has a set of guidelines on how information should be provided on health-care services.

Earlier this year, the Singapore Medical Association (SMA), which represents 5,300 doctors, requested MOH and SMC to harmonise their guidelines pertaining to health-care publicity.

SMA also recommended that accountability guidelines be put in place for new forms of advertising such as search engine marketing and publicity through the mediums of Facebook and Twitter.

Under the Act, health-care ads may use a variety of mediums, from newspapers to the Internet, but may not use billboards or SMSes.

The ministry also investigates breaches of the guidelines brought to their attention. MOH received 124 complaints on health-care ads this year as of Sept 23. This is down from last year's 155.

Those found breaching the guidelines can receive a warning letter, offered composition or be charged in court.

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