Eye Doctors Convene Meeting to Debate Medical Advertising Standards in Ireland

A meeting to facilitate a debate on the regulation of medical and surgical advertising in Ireland and to hear the views of expert bodies was held in the Royal College of Surgeons, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin today (Wednesday, September 24th).

The discussions at the ‘Medical Advertising in Ireland’ meeting, convened by the Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO), were focused on whether tighter guidelines and possible legislation are required to safeguard patients and their ability to make fully informed decisions before undertaking a medical or surgical procedure. Currently in Ireland, there are no requirements for advertisements or marketing material to provide information on the health risks of procedures.

Opening the meeting, President of the ICO and Consultant Eye Surgeon at University Hospital Limerick, Miss Marie Hickey-Dwyer said, “Advertising standards are a matter of concern to the ICO. Our issue is with the promise of outcomes that are not always possible and advertising them in a way that trivialises surgery.”

The ICO has expressed its on-going concern that direct patient advertising is being increasingly used to promote certain elective surgical procedures, with special offers and little mention of the potential risks. It advises that without appropriate standards, such advertising may be misleading or inaccurate, and may fail to reveal important risks and potential complications of treatment to a patient. As the expert body on eye care in Ireland, the ICO says regulation of medical advertising is urgently required in this country to ensure that patients can make fully informed decisions.

“The aim of today’s meeting is to get a full understanding of the current situation with regard to medical advertising in Ireland and to hear the views of those working in the specialties most impacted, alongside the views of the regulators and the very important perspective of the patient representative and consumer bodies” continued Miss Hickey-Dwyer.

The ICO has raised concerns and examples of what it regards as inappropriate medical advertising with the Advertising Standards Authority in Ireland (ASAI), including companies that offer incentives such as the chance to win free laser eye surgery.

“Our lack of success in these complaints being upheld caused us to think about the issues in more detail and has in many ways led us to this meeting today. We hope the result of today’s discussion will be that we can bring the audience to a consensus on what are the appropriate next steps and who will take responsibility for this,” Miss Hickey-Dwyer confirmed.

Addressing delegates, Frank Goodman, Chief Executive of the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI), said that “while a number of complaints in this and related areas have been upheld, the existing code is currently under review and discussions at today’s meeting will be instrumental in informing the self-regulatory body on the views of key stakeholders on this matter and changes that may need to be implemented in the interests of appropriate advertising of medical products and services.”

The ICO announced at today’s meeting that they have devised guidelines for refractive surgery and have included a section on advertising; discouraging time limited deals, financial inducements and unrealistic expectations. The College, which is the training and professional body for eye doctors in Ireland, convened the meeting to hear the perspective of the regulators and patient and consumer representative bodies on whether these guidelines go far enough or whether tighter regulation and control is needed to safeguard consumers from inappropriate or pressurised sales techniques.

Discussions were not specific to eye care and included talks from Ms Margaret O’Donnell, Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon and President of the Association of Plastic Surgeons and Mr Patrick Ormon

26th September 2014