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A profession selling out: lamenting the paradigm shift in physician advertising
  1. N D Tomycz
  1. Correspondence to:
 N D Tomycz
 5512 Centre Ave #1, Pittsburgh, PA 15232, USA; tomycznd{at}upmc.edu

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For generations following the first American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Ethics in 1847, the relationship between doctors and advertising remained unambiguous—advertising was forbidden. In 1975, however, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accused the profession of “restraint of trade” and legally persuaded doctors to permit advertising amongst their clan. As the 1970s witnessed the relentless burgeoning of healthcare expenditure, physicians accepted the blame for immuring themselves from the natural forces of economics. American physicians were bullied to embrace advertising under the delusion that doctoring—like any trade—would become better and cheaper if incited by competition. Today most American physicians engage in some form of paid advertising, yet it is doubtful that physician advertising has either augmented the quality or diminished the cost of health care. Advertisement has eroded medical professionalism by denying doctors the right to enforce ethical boundaries between themselves and the “let the buyer beware” world of business. And more is at stake than professional status, for the doctor/patient relationship, the cornerstone of medicine, is endangered as physicians continue to cast forth the self interested lure of advertisement.

To assume that for over 130 years physicians anathematised advertising for purely ethical reasons would be naive. Sociologist Paul Starr explains that in the early 19th century, no group “embraced the ways of the market as actively as did popularisers, alternative healers, and quacks”.1 Advertisement was perhaps the most successful implement of empirical medicine. So it is no surprise that professional licensed doctors in America grew up with a “distaste and discomfort for advertising”.2 Medical advertisements were especially potent in the self reliant Jacksonian era, which touted health as a do it yourself venture commodified into tonics and one time procedures. To distinguish themselves from the circus of healthcare providers, physicians not only instituted higher educational standards and licensure …

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