Journal of medical ethics, 1991, 17, 35-40
The advertising of doctors' services
D H Irvine General Medical Council
having been engaged in reviewing the council's published guidance over a number of years, came to see Medicine is unique among professions and trades, offering the proposals it put to the council as further steps in a a 'product' which is unlike any other. The consequences for logical process in which an even more significant policy patients of being attracted by misleading information to an change had already been accepted, four years previously. inappropniate doctor or service are such as to demand special restrictions on the advertising of doctors' services. Furthermore, health care in the UK is organised around The role of the General Medical Council the 'referral system', whereby general practitioners refer The GMC, which was established in 1858, has the role patients to specialists when necessary rather than have specialists accept patients on self-referral. But this need not of protecting the public by regulating the activities of inhibit the provision of helpfulfactual information to those the medical profession. It keeps a register of qualified who need it. Recent policy changes by the GeneralMedical doctors, promotes high standards of medical education, co-ordinates the various stages of medical Council considerably broaden the scope for general to make factual information of their services education and is responsible for professional discipline practitioners and fitness to practise. Its functions are governed by available to local people, while safeguarding the public law, currently the Medical Act 1983, section 35 of activities which are designed to against promotional which requires it to provide, 'in such manner as it increase demand for certain kinds of specialist service by thinks fit', advice for doctors on standards of individuals' fears and lack of medical playing upon professional conduct or on medical ethics. It does this knowledge. through the issue of general guidance for the medical profession as a whole and by giving advice, on request, Revised guidance by the General Medical to individual doctors. Council (GMC) In May, 1990 the GMC approved revised guidance on the advertising of doctors' services in the UK, significantly relaxing its previous policy on the matter. The most obvious of the changes concern the advertising of general practitioner services: general practitioners are now allowed to publish information about their services in newspapers and the other media, and may also distribute such information on an unsolicited basis, for example by means of 'mailshots' or door-to-door leafleting in their areas. Given the antipathy of the medical profession to competitive activities of a 'commercial' kind and the convention, long regarded as fundamental to medical ethics in this country, that doctors should refrain from self-promotion, this revision of policy may seem to represent something of a sea-change in established attitudes. But the council's standards committee,
The original Warning Notice
The view that any but the simplest forms of information-giving by doctors were improper was so widely held within the profession, and regarded as so self-evident, that the GMC did not consider it necessary to issue advice on the subject until May, 1894 when, having received a petition from 130 registered dentists (over whom the GMC also had jurisdiction at that time) about the advertising practices of 21 specified dentists, it resolved: 'That the issue of advertisements of an objectionable character, and especially of such as contain either claims of superiority over other practitioners, or depreciation of them, may easily be carried so far as to constitute infamous or disgraceful conduct in a professional respect' (1). In May, 1905 the British Medical Association asked the GMC 'to...