Orthopedic surgeons not adhering to advertising guidelines

The Internet can be a double-edged sword for patients seeking health information, especially in terms of direct-to-consumer advertising. In an article recently published in The Medical Journal of Australiaresearchers from UNSW Sydney found that a considerable proportion of orthopedic surgeons who are members of the Australian Orthopedic Association (AOA) did not comply with the advertising guidelines of the AOA and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

Orthopedic surgeons specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries and diseases. This includes problems with bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons. The surgeries they perform range from elective procedures such as joint replacement surgery to emergency surgery on patients with musculoskeletal injuries.

A violation of online advertising standards

The study included 81 randomly selected surgeons from the Australian Orthopedic Association and a list of 59 surgeons who were listed in Google search results. From these two sets of samples, the researchers found that 64% of randomly selected orthopedic surgeons and 81% of surgeons who appeared in the top Google search results did not meet the guidelines of the medical board and the online advertising association.

In the AOA’s random sample, most instances of non-compliance were due to misleading or deceptive advertising, raising unreasonable expectations of benefits, using testimonials, and claiming superior performance. The reasons for non-compliance among Google’s AOA sample were similar, with a high proportion also of non-compliance due to the listing of specific brand names on their websites and failure to declare whether a business relationship exists. with these brands.

The paper’s lead author, Assistant Professor Sam Adie, said the exploratory analysis found non-compliance with AHPRA guidelines was higher in the Google AOA sample compared to the Google AOA sample. random AOA. The researchers found that the level of compliance was influenced by the state in which they operated, but not by geographic location—for example, rural versus metropolitan—or subspecialty.

“Patients increasingly rely on online health information to inform their medical care, so it’s important to recognize that misleading online information can have serious implications for patients’ informed decision-making,” says the Professor A/Adie.

Professor A/Sam Adie, who is joint senior lecturer at St George and Sutherland Clinical School of UNSW Medicine & Health, says the high degree of advertising non-compliance found in the study demonstrates the need for surgeons to be more careful about the information they post online.

“Stricter enforcement of advertising guidelines by AHPRA and AOA may also be necessary to protect patients from misleading advertising.”

The study is consistent with overseas studies, suggesting poor quality online material may be typical of orthopedic surgery. Photo: Shutterstock

Not just in Australia

The researchers note that previous studies conducted overseas have demonstrated poor quality advertising material on the websites of orthopedic surgeons, with websites containing exaggerated and subjective information without scientific references.

“Our study is consistent with overseas studies, suggesting that poor quality online material may be typical of orthopedic surgery. Our study is the first to examine the nature of online information posted by Australian orthopedic surgeons says A/Prof Adie.

“It was surprising to see the high prevalence of ads that flagrantly violate the Advertising Guidelines. This suggests to us that surgeons or those responsible for their online materials do not fully understand or are unaware of the guidelines or are intentionally violating the guidelines for commercial advantage.

Read more: Three orthopedic surgeries could do patients more harm than good

The impact on patient care

Assistant Professor Adie says the potential impact on patient care is concerning. “A recent systematic review found that the Internet and doctors are the most frequently used sources of health information by patients. This is important because misleading or misleading advertising can interfere with informed patient decision-making, as well as increase patient demand for specific treatments. It can also lead to inappropriate use of healthcare resources and adoption of new technologies with uncertain effectiveness.

The methods used in the study were designed to obtain a representative sample of advertising material that patients may encounter when accessing information about orthopedic surgeons. The AOA random sample was drawn from 500 AOA members who chose to make their contact information publicly available. The sample size calculation estimated that a sample of 81 surgeons would be needed to achieve a 95% confidence level of +10 percentage points.

“Previous research has shown that patients are more likely to visit related web pages in the top search results. So, we got our Google AOA sample by searching for “orthopedic surgeon” and the name of the major city in each of the eight Australian states and territories.We then took the top eight search results.Therefore, our results can be taken as a good reflection of advertising material posted by AOA members as a whole and reflect advertising material that may to be seen by patients”, explains A/Prof Adie.

The study provides evidence of the level of non-compliant advertising among Australian orthopedic surgeons. “However, what remains unanswered are the real implications of these online advertisements in an Australian context, including the effect on patient perception of treatments required, brands of implants and treatment expectations. . Additionally, we only looked at the compliance of orthopedic surgeons, and there are very few Australian studies examining online advertising among other medical and surgical specialties.

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