Currently Maurice Cheng and a representative from GOsC are in the process of clarifying how we can advertise, and what claims we can make, but for the moment this is a guide and, (disclaimer alert), only a guide, for where to find good advice. This blog in no way constitutes legal advice!!!. Clear?
If you don’t make sure your advertising is ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) compliant you run the risk of a complaint being made to the ASA (most probably by a committed sceptic from the Good Thinking Society – since July 2015 they have submitted 25 complaints a month and will carry on till we all comply with the ASA regs.) They see it as a kind of moral crusade. They are most concerned with us treating babies and children, and the single word colic on a website will be enough to trigger a complaint. They truly think we are doing harm, or at least seriously misleading people and taking money under false pretences, so they have that kind of zeal that comes from believing you have right on your side. And until we have some convincing research to show them, they will continue. They are totally transparent about what they are doing – it’s all on their website.
I think that what happens after a complaint is that no further action is taken if you agree to remove the offending non-evidence-based claim. But if you don’t, and the ASA makes a ruling which you then fail to comply with, you would be in breach of the Osteopathic Practice Standards and then it would be a matter for GOsC, and then you would be investigated. Basically, it’s not worth it. Bored, anti-alternative, science fanatics are sitting at home trawling through websites looking to find reasons to complain. Here’s the list of things you can claim to treat according to the Committee of Advertising Practice
- generalized aches and pains
- joint pains (inc hip and knee pain from OA as an adjunct to core OA treatments and exercise)
- arthritic pain
- general acute and chronic back pain (not arising from injury or accident)
- uncomplicated mechanical neck pain (as opposed to neck pain following injury i.e.whiplash)
- cervicogenic headache/migraine prevention
- frozen shoulder/shoulder and elbow pain/tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) arising from associated musculoskeletal conditions of the back and neck, but not isolated occurrences
- circulatory problems
- digestion problems
- joint pains, lumbago
- muscle spasms
- inability to relax
- rheumatic pain
- minor sports injuries and tensions
A slightly curious list, but there you are. What is lumbago anyway? I thought it was old-fashioned speak for low back pain. Sciatica can be caused by a number of things. I am surprised to see digestion problems included. And circulatory problems. Does that mean we can claim to treat any dysfunction or malfunction of the entire cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems, but not whiplash? Nor low back pain arising from an accident or injury, the thing we’re so good at? We can’t claim to treat tennis elbow unless it is associated with back problems? How many lay people would know or care about the distinction? How many clinicians could make the distinction? Hey, let’s just include it in the category minor sports injuries instead.
Still, as we know, we treat the person not the condition, so this does not affect our treatment, just our advertising. And this list is reasonably extensive. Understandably twitchy about the law, CAP emphasises that the provision of this list does not constitute legal advice.
Do also make sure your receptionist and staff know the limits of what they can say. I once had a receptionist who had to be gently deterred from advising patients on a variety of treatments from icebaths for ME to olive oil drops for ear infections.
Patient testimonials and outcome studies are NOT considered robust enough to constitute evidence, and be careful that testimonials don’t mislead by including opinions or impressions from the patient that are “likely to be interpreted as factual”. Also make sure that you have evidence that each testimonial is 1) from a real person and 2) you have been given permission to use it.
Free website check
There is an amazingly useful sounding (but again not legally binding) service which will check your website to make sure it is ASA compliant, free of charge. I have heard unverified reports that they will check four pages for free then charge a substantial amount for any additional pages. Apparently people have also been given conflicting advice by the CAP though, for example with some people being advised that a specific study in treating colic in infants meets the required standard of evidence, and some being advised that it doesn’t. Still, it is free and might throw up something useful, but might not be the last word.
Up to date research
But the buck stops with you, ultimately, and while sticking to the CAP list and being aware of what you can say means you are unlikely to attract any complaints, GOsC urge you to maintain up-to-date knowledge of research, not always easy to fit in to a busy life, but there is some decent information from NCOR, including a summary table of evidence relating to manual therapy here.