Time to stop calling yourself a Dr

by Blog, Legal

Time to stop calling yourself a Dr    By Zac Fine. October 6, 2016.

A couple of weeks ago one of our clients was contacted by the UK Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) about some poster advertisements they had put up around the town where they’re based.

They had used the prefix “Dr” before their names in the posters which, claimed CAP, breached the advertising rules. We removed the Dr titles and there was neither a great fuss nor a penalty, but it left us a little confused.

It’s a little like explaining the benefits of Botox on your dental practice website; everyone does it because it’s information patients are seeking, but the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) says that, strictly speaking, you’re not allowed to.

And do you remember the EU regulation about hydrogen peroxide when teeth whitening first came in? The maximum concentration for any products used was set at 0.3% but now, years later, it’s normal to see 11% products everywhere. And how many prosecutions? None.

You could be forgiven for thinking the authorities simply don’t care, so we had a chat with our legal consultant Sunita Jordan, former legal adviser and head of legal for the BDA, for some clarification. Here’s what she said:

Using the “Dr” title in your marketing collateral can, from the patient’s perspective, add a sense of authority and medical excellence and so it’s no wonder that almost all dental practice websites do this — you’ll see it on probably upwards of 90 per cent of dental practice websites.

But is it allowed? In short, no, although there’s no doubt it is ambiguous. The BDA and the GDC have advised dentists that the use of “Dr” is a courtesy title which should be made clear in advertising so as not to mislead the public. In reality that means adding a suffix like “(the use of “Dr” here is a courtesy title and does not signify a medical degree)” after your name. Not a great look on billboards. 

Until a few years ago, a blind eye was indeed turned to the use of the “Dr” title by dentists, but in 2013 the ASA upheld a complaint by a member of the public about the use of the title by dentists in an advertisement, so it is likely they could try to enforce this again, as our client’s experience with CAP suggests.

In reality most dentists probably don’t realise it’s something that can be enforced, which isn’t surprising when you consider that both the GDC and the BDA have for years acknowledged that dentists do use the title.

Having said that, we are seeing the odd case where the ASA does intervene, as in the one mentioned above in Glasgow. I also heard of one in February this year. So when it comes down to brass tax, my advice would be to just follow the rules (even if it seems like everyone around you isn’t) and dispense with the “Dr” title in all your future marketing collateral and promotional material unless you do have a medical degree or a PhD.

If by any chance some of your old marketing collateral is put before the ASA or CAP (by a vindictive local competitor, for example — which does occasionally happen), you will be given a warning and a reasonable amount of time to alter the offending promotional material.

Obviously that takes time and money, so you’re best bet is to make a clean break now and edit all your pamphlets and leaflets for the future. Just like you wouldn’t risk using the “Specialist” title if you’re not a registered specialist, using the “Dr” title isn’t worth it and the chances of being pulled up on it are looking increasingly likely. Use either the Mr or Mrs prefix or simply your name. And don’t worry; while “Dr” might look a little better to patients, it’s no deal breaker.

If you’re still worried or unsure, get in touch with me for advice, I’d be glad to help.


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“In reality most dentists probably don’t realise it’s something that can be enforced”

Sunita Jordan, Fine Company legal consultant

Author: Zac Fine