Should doctors advertise?

Cathy Chan

Cathy Chan, 16, CCC Kei Chi Secondary School

These days, it seems almost anything can be advertised, from goods to services to private tutors and concerts. A few years ago, Hong Kong doctors won the approval to promote themselves in a limited way by placing notices containing their service information in journals, magazines, newspapers and periodicals. However, I strongly oppose this idea.

There are many reasons why doctors should not advertise. Doctors are the public's 'gate keepers' of medical standards. Advertising makes treatment and even the doctors themselves look more like 'products' than humane and ethical professionals whose main duty is patients' well-being. Doctors would start treating their patients as clients or customers if the health care system became commercialised.

Patients risk being misled. Ads that go beyond factually listing a doctor's qualifications, address and surgery hours could make exaggerated claims. Other forms of advertising often mislead, and there must be no chance of that happening with doctors. Even if a strict watchdog was appointed to monitor the ads, no one could be 100 per cent sure the ads were honest. As a result, patients might risk their health by choosing an unsuitable doctor.

Doctors who advertise might violate medical principles and mislead patients.

Jessica Leung, 16, Our Lady of the Rosary College

The topic of allowing doctors to advertise is not a new controversy. The stated reason for the ban is to allow doctors to concentrate on curing patients, not to compete with their business rivals. But I think doctors should advertise.

At present, doctors are limited to posting strictly factual notices about their qualifications, surgery hours and so on in certain publications. These notices must not carry any exaggerated claims that can mislead people.

But the authorities are not consistent on this matter. Ads for medicines are accepted by society, even though many make exaggerated claims. I don't see why doctors also cannot advertise. Both doctors, and the medicines they prescribe, are regulated.

Doctors who open their own clinics are also businessmen. Advertising is an important promotional tool to reach their patients, and to expand their client base. A doctor does not need to act unethically while making a profit.

Moreover, doctors are already licensed to show they are capable of treating patients while keeping high standards of medical practice. Therefore, advertising would not harm people's health: it would just give patients more choices.

Furthermore, a doctor who makes more money is more likely to invest in new equipment and provide better services to patients. This can only benefit society.

I believe patients will benefit most if their doctors' clinics can operate effectively as businesses. The best way for them to achieve this is to advertise.