Spinal Decompression Marketing Done Ethically – 10 Tips to Ensure Your Ads Are Ethical and Effective
Spinal Decompression therapy is an exciting modern healthcare treatment for back and neck pain due to a variety of conditions. There is a great deal of research to support the effectiveness of spinal decompression in relieving pain and symptoms. Many doctors, clinics, marketing companies, and equipment manufacturers really go overboard when praising the benefits of decompression however! Arrogant and over the top decompression advertisements give spinal decompression a bad reputation that it doesn’t deserve. Healthcare providers need to make sure their spinal decompression advertising and marketing isn’t making promises they can’t keep.
Don’t get me wrong, I have seen first hand evidence that spinal decompression works. I have seen many patients steer clear of the path of drugs and surgery thanks to spinal decompression and conservative chiropractic care. Although I believe in spinal decompression, I also know it has limitations. Spinal decompression is not a magic cure all. It is not an instant, guaranteed fix for herniated discs or back pain. Marketing decompression as if it is, is simply unethical. While that may seem obvious, we always need to be aware of the message our spinal decompression marketing is sending.
I understand most healthcare providers don’t design their own marketing. Most simply pay someone else to design and run it. That is still no excuse for not critically analyzing your advertisements and they statements they make. The doctor or healthcare provider is ultimately the person responsible for the contents of their advertising. When it comes to state board regulations there is no passing the buck. How often have you come across a spinal decompression ad that makes bold statements about curing this or that condition? How often have you read an ad that you KNEW violated state board rules or other regulations? More importantly, are you running these ads yourself? Even though an ad may be effective in generating new patients, it can still be potential trouble.
For example, about a month ago while traveling for a seminar I came across a simple and well designed decompression ad. It was very compelling and ended with a strong offer and a call to action. I had no doubt it was a very effective ad. My problem was with the headline, which read something to the effect of: “Spinal Decompression can eliminate your back pain due to herniated or bulging discs . . . without drugs or painful surgery!” I’ve also come across a few ads flat out stating that spinal decompression is a non-surgical CURE for back pain. These types of ads can land a practice in hot water. It is also my personal opinion that these ads are both dishonest and unethical. You may not share my concerns, but look at what these ads are really saying to the prospective patient.
Let’s look at the first example ad. The ad states that spinal decompression CAN eliminate back pain. It doesn’t say it might, or that it is a possibility. It states that it CAN. Now we could split hairs here and debate the meaning of “can”. Some would argue that the usage of “can” simply implies that decompression has the potential to eliminate back pain. I would agree it’s a possibility, but I don’t want my state board, or a court interpreting the meaning of my advertising content. I think a much better choice would be statement like “spinal decompression may be able to help relieve your pain and symptoms . . . without drugs or surgery”. This may not be as eye catching as the original headline, but it conveys the same message and does so ethically. There is no promise. There is no statement left for loose interpretation. Written this way the ad simply states that spinal decompression MAY be an option. Without directly stating so, the ad also indicates to a reasonable person that spinal decompression is NOT always an option and it is NOT always effective.
Another concern with that first example ad is the word “eliminate”. Is it really ethical to be talking about ELIMINATING pain or symptoms? A statement like that can lead to false expectations on the part of new decompression patients. Patients will come in expecting elimination of their pain and symptoms, when the honest to goodness truth is we have no idea whether treatment will be effective. Wouldn’t the word “reducing” or “relieving” be a much better choice than “eliminating”? As you can see, you should choose your wording carefully when you advertise. Changing one or two words in the copy of an advertisement can lead to a potential problem. Although a mistake may be an honest oversight or miscommunication between the advertiser and provider, it doesn’t excuse the doctor from any liability.
The second type of ad I mentioned were those overly confident ads that boast spinal decompression can cure back pain or herniated discs. Yes, these ads do exist. I have seen them with my own eyes. I still cringe when I read them. A healthcare provider shouldn’t be advertising that they can cure anything with spinal decompression. These types of ads are flat out unethical and illegal. They are a disservice to the prospective patient because they make statements that simply aren’t true! I usually give these doctors the benefit of the doubt and assume they simply haven’t carefully looked at what their ads are saying.
It may seem that it is very easy to accidentally cross over into the world of unethical and dishonest spinal decompression advertising. This may be true, but it is also just as easy to prevent this from happening. Here are10 easy tips to ensure your spinal decompression marketing is both effective and ethical:
- Be Informed.
- Accept responsibility
- Curb your enthusiasm
- Don’t Promise Anything
- Use Common Sense
- Put yourself in the Prospective Patient’s Shoes
- Patients Before Profit
- Your Competition is not a Role Model
- Be Consistent
- Control Costs
1. Be Informed
Know your state laws and any other applicable rules and regulations. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Do your homework and make sure your spinal decompression marketing is in full compliance. Don’t leave any grey areas which are open to interpretation.
2. Accept Responsibility
You already know this, but it bears repeating. Ultimately the doctor or provider is responsible for the advertising they run. Don’t expect a marketing firm, a media outlet, or anyone else to accept responsibility for your mistakes. In the end YOU as a healthcare provider are responsible for the content of your advertising. It is YOUR license and reputation which are on the line. Market ethically or don’t do it at all!
3. Curb Your Enthusiasm
We both know spinal decompression is great. As healthcare providers we are convinced spinal decompression can help our patients. It is important to remember to keep our passion and confidence in decompression in check. Communicate your confidence in decompression, but remember that nothing is guaranteed. This leads us to tip number four.
4. Don’t Promise Anything!
Do yourself and your patients a favor: don’t make any promises you can’t keep. Do not advertise that spinal decompression can definitively cure, stop, or eliminate anything. If you want to state that spinal decompression may be able to do these things, I think you are treading in much safer waters!
5. Use Your Common Sense
I have faith that we all possess at least some degree of common sense. Use it! If something seems like a grey area or a bad idea it probably is! Stop and think about the impact any given form of advertisement is going to have on you and your practice before you run it. Try and visualize both the positive and potential negative impacts of an advertisement before committing. Following tip number six well help here.
6. Put Yourself in the Prospective Patient’s Shoes
It is easy to assume others know what we are trying to express in our advertising. We see the benefits of spinal decompression everyday so we have a biased point of view. One of the best ways to critically evaluate your spinal decompression marketing is to look at each and every ad from an outsider’s point of view. Pretend you are a prospective patient who knows nothing about spinal decompression. Take a look at your advertisements and interpret them from an outsider’s point of view. What does your marketing say? Does it make promises? Can the ad be misunderstood and taken too literally? It is often beneficial to enlist the help of a friend or relative with this step.
7. Patients Before Profit
This one is simple. Remember the main goal is to help patients and improve quality of life. The goal is not make as much money as possible. Profit is a factor in the equation, but it shouldn’t be the driving force behind your marketing. One of the fastest ways to start marketing unethically is to market only to make money. Focus on bringing in patients into your practice that you want to help. When you market with the end goal of helping people get out of pain and back to enjoying a better quality of life you will be amazed how profit falls into place. Your spinal decompression will be ethical and you will still make money. Position yourself as a doctor who truly cares about your patients and those patients will reward you.
8. Your Competition is not a Role Model
Never rely on your competitor’s advertising to tell you what is legal and ethical. Just because Dr. Jones down the street at XYZ Clinic gets away with it doesn’t meet it is acceptable. Focus on tips 1-7 and let the competition say what they will!
9. Be Consistent
Make sure your spinal decompression advertising and marketing maintains a central theme and message. At the very least make sure your different advertisements don’t contradict one another. Don’t tell patients one thing in one and something totally different in the next. Maintaining consistency is key. If your ads are sending mixed messages, your audience may dismiss them as unethical junk that tells them what they want to hear rather than the truth.
10. Control Costs
What do costs have to do with ethical marketing? Nothing leads to unethical marketing faster than when a doctor overextends their marketing budget. Think of it as the familiar old saying, “Desperate times call for desperate measures”. Panicked doctors who spent too much on advertising often say and promise things they normally wouldn’t. When that expensive advertising they can’t afford doesn’t work, the situation is often even more critical. These individuals may begin to use questionable marketing ethics in effort to bring in more patients. Never put yourself in this position. Set a marketing budget that is affordable. Know this budget and stick to it!
The preceding tips are ten easy ways to ensure your spinal decompression marketing is ethical. Unfortunately many spinal decompression providers market with questionable ethics. This is both bad for their profession and a disservice to the patient. Healthcare providers owe it to their patients to market truthfully. Hopefully I have demonstrated that spinal decompression marketing can be both effective and ethical. Follow the advice above, stay humble, and use your common sense. Whenever I run an advertisement I think of something my father would tell me when I was a teenager: “Don’t let your mouth write a check your butt can’t cash!” That advice still applies today!