Advertising in veterinary medicine is an often discussed topic. The current regulations in Poland prohibiting vet advertising arouse controversy, especially in the era when online communication and social media play such an important role in businesses and in life. We asked Mrs Anna Kerner about forms of advertisement that are acceptable when used by veterinarians.

Why are the regulations on veterinary advertising so strict? How can it even lead to a ban?

We shall remember that similar bans apply to doctors and lawyers as well as veterinarians. Therefore, the subject has been in the center of discussion for a long time. All the professions mentioned above are public trust professions. They bring together their members within the framework of individual professional self-government, which lays down the rules for the exercise of these professions. They also set the broadly understood ethics that guide professionals. This is also the goal served by Resolution No. 116/2008/IV of the National Medical and Veterinary Council of 12 December 2008 on the detailed rules of publishing information on the scope and types of veterinary services provided, opening hours and the address of an animal health care institution, which allows publishing only basic information enabling identification of a given veterinary clinic. In accordance with the content of the resolution, displaying public content is permissible in the following areas: type of establishment as entered in the register of animal health care establishments, name and address of the establishment, e-mail address, name of personal website, telephone numbers, opening hours, provided services in relation to certain species, organs or systems, names of veterinarians performing the services with a possible indication of the degree or academic title due to their specialization. As we can see, this is basic information, contact details, in particular. They certainly do not make it easier for the client to make a well-informed decision when choosing a clinic. It also makes it hard for specialists to communicate about their unique services. Public information cannot bear the featuresof advertising and contain price information in order to be admissible. The resolution is interpreted rigorously.

What does the term ‘advertising’ cover exactly?
Making information available to the public means communicating it, enabling an indefinite number of people to become acquainted with it, for example on the radio, television, press, on the Internet, on posters placed in public places or on leaflets. According to Article 4(17) of the Act of 29 December 1992 on Radio and Television Broadcasting, “advertising is a commercial communication, coming from a public or private entity, in connection with its economic or professional activity, aimed at promoting the sale or use of goods or services for money; advertising is also self-promotion.” The message refers directly or indirectly to goods or services. The intention is to persuade potential recipients to purchase or otherwise use goods or services

What are the ways of reinforcement of the advertising ban? How severe are they?
The sanctions taken when exceeding the limits of the resolution of the self-government body of veterinarians are rather severe. However, they do not hinder the violators to further exercise the profession. This is important since a lawyer may be subject to disciplinary liability for a similar
violation of the advertising ban, which might result in suspension from professional activities or disbarment. Publishing information about the scope and types of health services or veterinary medicine services provided in the form and content of advertising is sanctioned by Article 147a § 2 of
the Code of Criminal Offences and may result in imprisonment, restriction of liberty or a fine. The offender may be sentenced to imprisonment for 5 to 30 days, restriction of liberty for the duration of 1 month or a fine of 20 to 5000 PLN.

Do similar regulations apply in other countries?
Probably most of us have come across memorable advertising slogans of veterinary services from the United States, where similar bans do not exist. However, I do not think the US should be our point of reference. We aim to bring our national laws in line with EU regulations, which are undoubtedly
aimed at a gradual liberalization. I believe this is also the direction that the Polish legislation will take in the upcoming years.

Let us address the most important question. What kind of information may be shared by veterinarians without violating the regulations in force?

We have to keep in mind the purpose of the regulation when deciding what to and what not to publish. Professionals of higher social prestige, like doctors and veterinarians, have to meet higher ethical requirements and standards. At the same time, their unethical acts trigger considerable criticism. They have a social mission, therefore the public might think advertising of services does not match their professional dignity. We have to admit they are right. On the other hand, the market is constantly changing. New services and technologies become available. When a few years ago the self-government of legal advisers liberalized the rules of ethics concerning promotion, this phenomenon was on their mind. Increased competitiveness forces market participants to inform potential clients about their existence – which applies to high-prestige professionals just as much. These professionals should be prudent in advertising and keep in mind
the nature of the field. Occasionally, it’s hard to draw a clear line between informing and advertising regarding veterinary services. The unclear boundaries concern social media particularly, including Facebook.

It is crucial to set the difference between informing and advertising straight. The way of sharing the information can give us a guideline: promoting posts, events, applications and individual links, or creations with images, videos and texts referring to external sites should be considered unacceptable due to their paid nature. Despite the restrictions, it is possible to inform potential customers about a particular specialist. Traditional advertising is not the only way. Paid activities should be unacceptable at all times. However, providing information about one’s scientific activities, commenting on topics and issues from a professional’s perspective, or maintaining a website or a profile should all be acceptable practices. Since there is often a fine line between sharing information and promoting oneself, I recommend vigilance to all veterinarians.
Author: Anna Kerner, lawyer

NS: There are many great ways in which we can increase our reach in social media and attract potential customers free of charge. By creating high-quality content and accompanying it with beautiful, good-quality pictures, we can build a coherent image of our clinic. In this way, we build the position of an expert in a given field and increase our chances that the client will choose us. Facebook offers many free tools, such as surveys, contests, photo galleries, canvases and so on.
Using them helps us create attractive content that invites readers and comments. The commitment under our posts helps us stay in the user’s field for longer. A great form of free advertising is also taking care of your online reputation, that is, reviews and the company’s image on Google My Company and Facebook. It’s quick and easy to ask a satisfied customer to leave a positive review, which is the best advertisement. If you want to know how to do it, watch our video below:

WP: We often meet paid advertisement practices, such as buying expert posts written by veterinarians. However, we have to remember this is unacceptable, says Anna Kerner above.

NS: I can see quite a lot of posts like that. Probably I am the target group of such advertisements.

WP: That is right. Advertisements in search engines, e.g. AdWords, are also prohibited in veterinary advertising. Such ads are banners: verbal banners displayed together with search results in a search engine like Google, or graphical, dynamically created banners displayed in various places on websites that are not necessarily related to veterinary medicine.

NS: Such banners are not uncommon in veterinary services, in spite of being prohibited. In addition, we are not allowed to share the price of our services on the internet, including forums, open discussion groups, portals etc. Unfortunately, not all veterinarians follow these rules. They put our
industry in a very difficult position. One of the most well-known animal portal run by veterinarians shows an “example of the prices” of castration and sterilization “in one of Warsaw’s clinics”. So how to reach customers while meeting the requirements of the regulation? Start with your Facebook page. Check if you can do anything else to make it more interesting for pet owners. You can read about it in our article “Social media for dummies – 5 proven tips for the clinic’s fan page.”

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