There is still a lot of confusion when it comes to advertising in healthcare. It used to be quite simple, that is, a medical doctor cannot advertise his/her services. In recent years, the Malaysian Medical Council has relaxed these rules. Unfortunately, it has added confusion and no one really knows where to draw the line?
We have certainly seen more advertising from clinics and medical centres. As the article below has attempted to highlight, the rules are not consistently applied. MMC has to be more transparent and office bearers must do their jobs by clearing the air.
Sadly, economics and corruption may get the upper hand as ethics and transparency take a back seat.
By Audrey Vijaindren
OVERDOSE: Some quarters raised concerns about medical practices advertising their services. Audrey Vijaindren finds out whether there is a need for stricter enforcement
IT’S almost impossible to miss the eye-catching signboards offering some sort of health and beauty treatment or another at stop signs and along highways.
While these signboards appear innocent and may even offer hope to those who wish to have flawless skin, perfect vision and white teeth, there are rules regulating them, and they are not being adhered to.
Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan said it’s appalling that these signboards advertising medical services were allowed.
“Medicine has always been considered a noble profession, and those within the profession are bound by a strict code of ethics from the time of Hippocrates.
“The profession in Malaysia is strictly regulated by the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) and the Medical Practice Division of the Health Ministry, who are supposed to monitor and enforce the rules and guidelines of the MMC, which were legislated so as not to tarnish the image of the profession.
“MMA is also shocked that the Medicine Advertisements Board, which functions autonomously under the ministry, has sanctioned such massive advertisements. They are also empowered to take disciplinary and punitive action against such advertisements.
“The sanctity of the practice of medicine is losing its halo fast because MMC appears impotent in taking action.”
Many medical practitioners and MMA feel that these rules are only enforced on meek, small-time general practitioners, who are regularly hauled up by MMC for infringing the law, he said.
“Their offence might just be a simple photocopied flyer that’s distributed around the neighbourhood to announce that he or she has commenced practice. But this is enough to have the GP face disciplinary action, including warning and suspension.
“It’s strange that MMC has chosen not to take action against the ‘big-players’ who have brought disrepute to the profession while an honest GP seeking to make a living is pummelled and punished into submission and told to follow the ‘law and moral code’ governing the profession.
“All this is happening while the ‘rich and mighty’ are building massive billboards, banners and signboards.”
Dr Tharmaseelan said these advertisements were placed in strategic spots; roundabouts, busy avenues, highways and even in front of hospitals.
“I’m sure their advertising budgets run into millions of ringgit. The practice of medicine has become part of the wheeling and dealing that happens in the business world. Medicine has lost its nobleness and sanctity.
“Over the years, numerous complaints have been forwarded to MMC, but no action has been taken. Rarely do we see such unimpeded advertising of medical services in other countries.”
He said it was shocking that some justify the advertising as promoting health tourism.
“This is a lame excuse. Shouldn’t health tourism be promoted overseas? Obviously, this can’t be done because it’s not permitted. However, it’s done here even though there are laws prohibiting it.
“We hope MMC will use its teeth provided by law to ‘bite’ and enforce the rules to maintain the nobleness of the profession with fairness and equality.”
Dr Tharmaseelan said although the ministry claimed to have taken action, enforcement was insufficient.
“Medical practitioners feel that there is selective enforcement. Even official complaints have not been acted upon. This has to stop immediately.”