Doctors appearing in ads for hospitals may face action

A few years ago, the Medical Council of India took punitive action against a group of doctors who had been featured prominently in the advertisement of the hospital they were working in, by removing their names from the Indian Medical Register/State Medical Register for 15 days.

The MCI took this decisive action because doctors promoting themselves through advertisements with photographs is a gross violation of Indian Medical Council (Professional conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002.

A group of doctors working in a prominent corporate hospital in Kochi may be at risk of the same transgression after their photographs and details were featured prominently in a newspaper advertisement of the hospital on May 1. The matter has already been brought to the attention of the Registrar of Travancore Cochin Council of Modern Medicine, for “appropriate action.”

What the code says

Section 6.1 of the Code of Ethics states that “...a physician shall not make use of him/her (or his/her name) as subject of any form or manner of advertising or publicity through any mode either alone or in conjunction with others ... as to invite attention to him or to his professional position, skill, qualification ...”

“Corporate hospitals are free to advertise their facilities and services but they cannot advertise their services making use of the photographs and details of the doctors under their employment. Doctors are well aware of these provisions in the Code of Ethics,” points out K.V. Babu, a physician and public health activist who has been championing medical ethics. It was in 2013 that MCI took disciplinary action against nine doctors who were featured prominently in an advertisement of Saxena Multispeciality Hospital, Pvt. Ltd., Sonepat, Haryana.

Council’s mandate

Travancore Cochin Council of Modern Medicine, which met in May last year, brought out a circular that the council will be forced to take suo motu action against doctors if they display their photographs in any hospital billboards or advertisements in violation of the Code of Ethics. It had asked doctors to remove their names and photographs from such publicity material immediately or to face punitive action, including removal of their names from the State Medical Register.

“MCI’s Code of Ethics is binding on the doctors and not the hospital. MCI has jurisdiction only over doctors. So even if it is the hospital which is putting out the advertisements featuring doctors’ photographs, the latter alone will be held liable for the violation of medical ethics,” Dr. Babu says.

Advisory to hospital

Chairman of the ethics committee of Indian Medical Association, Kerala, Srikumar Vasudev, said that the committee will be issuing a notice to the doctors featured in the advertisement and sending an advisory to the hospital also regarding the Code of Ethics. “Perhaps the doctors are not aware of it, but it is their duty to ensure that their employer does not use their photographs in advertisements in violation of the code,” he added.