Advertising Guidelines, including Member and Practice Representation

(Effective April 15, 2014)

 

Introduction

The following guidelines describe how optometrists may represent themselves and their qualifications in their advertising, practice names, and general business practices. “Advertisement” is defined as including any message expressed in any language and communicated in any medium to anyone in circumstances that could influence the recipient’s choice, opinion, or behaviour. Generally, informational advertising, if it is truthful and understandable, serves the public interest. Persuasive advertising is professionally divisive and ethically objectionable, and may lead vulnerable members of society to personally or financially invest in health services, products, or ventures that are not of benefit to them. These guidelines have been created to delineate between informational and persuasive advertising.

 

Relevant Professional Misconduct Regulations (O.Reg. 119/94 Part I)

Representations of Members and their Qualifications

19.    Using a term, title or designation in respect of the member’s practice other than “optometrist” or “doctor of optometry”.

20.    Using, in the course of providing or offering to provide professional services, any reference to the member’s education or educational achievement other than the member’s university degree, unless the use of the reference is approved by Council.

21.    Identifying oneself to a patient as a person who is qualified to practise as a member of a health profession other than optometry, unless lawfully entitled to do so in Ontario under the legislation governing that profession.

Advertising

22. Publishing or using, or knowingly permitting the publication or use of an advertisement, announcement or information that promotes or relates to the provision of professional services by a member to the public, whether in a document, business card, business sign, website, or any other format which,

i.    is false or deceptive, whether by reason of inclusion of or omission of information,

ii.    suggests that the member is a specialist or is specially educated, trained or qualified other than where the reference is to an educational achievement and the reference has been approved by Council, iii. contains a testimonial or comparative or superlative statements,

iv.    contains an endorsement other than an endorsement by an individual or organization that has demonstrated, to the satisfaction of Council, that the individual or organization has expertise relevant to the subject matter of the endorsement,

v.    is not factual, objectively verifiable or readily comprehensible to the persons to whom it is directed, or

vi.    would be reasonably regarded by members as demeaning the integrity or dignity of the profession or likely to bring the profession into disrepute.

 

Guidelines

Representation of Members and their Qualifications

Members may refer to themselves using only the terms “optometrist” or “doctor of optometry.” No other designation or descriptor is allowed in practice name or advertising. In all practice communications, members should represent themselves as optometrists and not as physicians. Optometrists should not say anything themselves or allow anything to be said on their behalf in advertising or elsewhere that would lead people to believe they are physicians.

Members are allowed to use any earned university degrees, however it must be made clear to patients that they are optometrists. Members may only refer to fellowships or other educational achievements that have been approved by Council. To date, the only fellowship or educational achievement that has been approved for use by Council is fellowship in the American Academy of Optometry.

Members may only hold themselves out as being members of another profession if they are registered to practice that profession through the relevant health regulatory college.

Advertising

Advertising regulations now include practice name, as well as any advertising by a member in any medium. As well as requirements that advertising not mislead the public, there continue to be prohibitions on the use of testimonials, superlatives, and comparatives (e.g., “At Any Town Optometric Clinic you’ll get a better examination and prescription than at any other clinic in town”).  Because the regulation includes practice names, members cannot use practice names with superlatives (e.g., “Best Optometric Clinic” would not be allowed). There are currently no specialist designations that are approved by the College for use by members, therefore members cannot call themselves a specialist in any area of practice.

Endorsements may be allowed if Council is satisfied that the individual or organization has the expertise relevant to the subject matter of the endorsement.

Conflict of Interest and Independent Contractors

Sharing fees can give rise to (the perception of) a conflict of interest. Optometrists are prohibited from sharing fees with anyone except another optometrist or physician.

Members who practise as independent contractors must have a written agreement that ensures, among other provisions, that any advertising relating to the professional services provided by the member meets the requirements set out in regulations made under the Act. Members are responsible for any advertising of their practice, even if it is paid for by another entity. Optometrists must not advertise fee sharing promotions with “deal of the day” websites (e.g., Groupon, LivingSocial), or opticians or corporations with whom they practice as independent contractors.

In-Office Material vs. Advertising

Promotional materials for use within the office only are not considered advertising, and as such are not subject to these guidelines. However, websites are accessible by the general public and are therefore considered to be advertising and are subject to these regulations.

As always, your College’s foremost concern is to safeguard the interest of the public. These guidelines will allow for greater flexibility in the choice members have in advertising their practices while maintaining tasteful and appropriate public exposure for the profession.