Alberta Dentists restricted in social media & digital marketing: are consumers hurt most?

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Alberta Dentists restricted in social media & digital marketing: are consumers hurt most?

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Some industries are restricted when it comes to social media & digital marketing. Alberta Dentists are among that group.

Until recently, most consumers likely had no idea that dentists in Alberta were restricted in the types of advertising & marketing they could participate in. This includes things like social media & digital marketing: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and even their own websites.

If you live in Calgary, you may have seen an article published in the Calgary Sun with the headline: “Alberta dentists sue their own governing body.”

“…the lawsuit on behalf of some 100 Alberta dentists says the Alberta Dental Association and College have been heavy handed in restricting dentists from advertising on websites and social media, violating both their Charter rights to freedom of expression and their ability to compete for business.”

Example of Dr Stanleighs website in Alberta

Example: Alberta Websites

Example of Nova Scotia Dentist Website

Example: Nova Scotia Websites

Below is a Q+A with Dr. Stanleigh .

What is the biggest concern for the regulatory body? (e.g.: some dentists have bigger marketing budgets and it wouldn’t be a level playing field?)

It’s not about budgets, a level playing field or unregulated advertising. There are restrictions on what can and cannot be said, which has become so limiting that the public is harmed due to a lack of available & relevant information that could help them choose the best dental health care provider.

Do you have an example of content restrictions on dental websites? 

  • We cannot have testimonials.
  • We cannot have before or  after photo’s of any work we have done.
  • I cannot tell people that I served our country as a member of the Canadian Forces.
  • I cannot tell people that I was a President of a National Charitable Foundation in Canada.
  • I cannot tell people what lectures I have given, what papers I have published, what area’s of dentistry I have a special interest in

The above would be considered a claim of superiority and that’s not allowed.

Had to remove the following links from my website:

  • Academy of General Dentistry,
  • American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry,
  • Agility Guard sports performance mouthguard (they had great information resources for the general public.)

But because I’m a member of these organizations, having the links on my website was considered a claim of superiority and that’s not allowed.

When was the Code of Ethics implemented? 

The Code of Ethics was created in response to the implementation of the Provincial Health Protection Act. Under the Code of Ethics, there’s a section outlining rules for advertising; it states that a dentist cannot make a claim of superiority over another dentist (which I agree with.) However, the Code was drilled down further and includes an extensive list of things that cannot be advertised. Currently, the system is a complaints based only; meaning that unless the general public or other dentists complain, nothing happens. The general public doesn’t know or understand the restrictions. However, there was an investigation launched by our governing body which targeted a select group of dentists whom they found guilty of professional misconduct due to advertising violations.

Fines range from $50,000 to $100,000. I found myself being asked to change a few things of my own commercial website. I changed them within 48 hours but was told that every piece of my advertising would be investigated (which resulted in a four year investigation and 66 pages of ‘violations.’) This ultimately led to me to shut down most of my website

Why do you think these restrictions currently exist?

The way the advertising restrictions are written, interpreted and enforced is at a level unlike any found anywhere in the Western World. And because the enforcement is haphazard and complaints based only, the punishments and penalties are far beyond any semblance of reasonable or fair.

The section of the code related to advertising is similar to the standards followed by CPSA (College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta), what makes this situation different?

With the ADA+C, enforcement is uneven and extremely heavy handed. And they’ve been handing out ‘license to practice’ suspensions for anywhere from 3-12+ months; this makes it impossible for dentists to earn a living. In fact, our disability insurance provider advised us that the average dentist is three months away from bankruptcy.

Were resources made available for dentists in terms of advertising/marketing?

No resources were made available for us; no training and the rules keep changing without clear communication.

Is this an issue for Dentists in other provinces?

It is becoming an issue in other provinces because it’s taken so long for the rules to be challenged here. Other provinces are influenced by the ED in Alberta and in many cases, they’re starting to implement some of these heavy-handed restrictions.

-End Q+A-

Question: were you aware that dentists were restricted on how they could share company information?  As a consumer who likely researchers buying decisions using Google and social proof, how do you feel about all of this? Should dentists be heavily regulated? What do you think? 

Back in 2014 AdWeek published an article revealing that 81% of consumers do research online before making a buying decision. The real issue here is that consumers don’t get access to critical information, like they would in other industries like Insurance, Real Estate and other important {big ticket} services. Consumers now rely on social media and digital marketing to help guide purchasing decisions. Beyond websites, they look to Google and Facebook for reviews and testimonials to help make more informed decisions. [Learn More About Reviews & Online Customer Engagement Here]


Other related news articles: 

More dentists fighting their governing body

Alberta dentists sue association over ‘unbelievably restrictive’ advertising rules

Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay, BA ADdPR BnC
Kat Macaulay is a Marketing Strategist, Writer + Speaker known for her no-nonsense approach to pretty much everything. Using data insights, she helps organizations market more effectively to get results that matter. She's also a high-scoring instructor at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Social Media Analytics and Google Analytics + Marketing Measurement. She holds certifications from Google, as well as Facebook and is currently working toward a specialization in Marketing Analytics and a certificate in Data Science from IBM. When she’s not busy juggling kids, volunteering + work, she’s busy planning her retirement to Cape Breton.