By Patrick O’Brien, J.D., Legal Coordinator for the American Med Spa Association
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced their first ever enforcement action against a provider of intravenous therapy (IV therapy) for making unsupported claims about the health benefits of their IV treatments. You can read the complaint and press release by clicking here. But in brief the FTC alleges that iV Bar’s website contained multiple false, and unsubstantiated representations as to the clinical or scientific effectiveness of the treatments. Setting aside the merit of the FTC’s claims, this case does highlight a hidden danger of medical spa and IV bar ownership: advertising.
Advertising is a critical part of a successful med spa or IV therapy clinic. Effective advertising is vitally important in attracting new patients and informing existing patients of other services you offer. You want to let consumers know of your expertise, the benefits you can provide, and to distinguish your practice above your competitors. However, med spa and IV therapy clinic advertisements, as with other medical practices, fall under several layers of rules and regulations. Since advertising by its very nature is easily accessible out in the public sphere it makes it a simple matter for regulatory bodies to locate advertisements that violate the laws. Therefore it is beneficial for med spa and IV bar owners to have at least some familiarity with the limitations of what they can say in ads.
Read more about legal issues in medical spa advertising here.
Deceptive Practices Acts
In addition to the Federal Trade Commission Act, many states have adopted some form of a deceptive trade practices act designed to protect consumers from fraudulent and deceptive advertising and statements. These are usually enforced by the State’s attorney general and many provide private rights of action allowing the consumer to sue the business directly. For example the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act makes it a deceptive practice to represent that goods or services have approval, uses, benefits which they do not. Damages in the Texas statute can include compensation for economic and mental anguish and if the court finds that the conduct was “knowing” and “intentional” it can result in three times the economic and mental anguish damages being awarded to the consumer.
Medical Licensing Boards
Med spas and IV therapy clinics are medical practices and as such will fall under their state’s rules for physician advertising and professional conduct. Many state Medical Practice Acts, including Florida’s, prohibit physicians from using false, deceptive, or misleading advertising or as is the case in New Hampshire claiming professional superiority. Even if not explicitly in the statutes, state medical board’s ethics rules and opinions often contain similar prohibitions. For a good general overview there are the American Medical Association’s ethics opinions such as this one which states, in part:
Because the public can sometimes be deceived by the use of medical terms or illustrations that are difficult to understand, physicians should design the form of communication to communicate the information contained therein to the public in a readily comprehensible manner. Aggressive, high pressure advertising and publicity should be avoided if they create unjustified medical expectations or are accompanied by deceptive claims. The key issue, however, is whether advertising or publicity, regardless of format or content, is true and not materially misleading.
Often, state medical disciplinary boards are influenced or adopt guidelines similar to the AMA’s.
The business name you advertise under can also be subject to various rules. Several states, one such being California, prohibit a physician from doing business under a name different than their own unless they obtain a fictitious or assumed name registration. Still other states limit the use of words such as “spa”, “clinic”, or “medical” unless certain requirements are met or procedures offered.
AmSpa members can utilize their annual compliance consultation call with the law firm of ByrdAdatto to understand the medical advertising requirements in their particular state.
False, misleading, and deceptive. If you feel like you are seeing a trend you are right. Generally these laws and boards use similar language to protect consumers and patients. However the specific interpretation and implementation of these terms is not identical and one type of ad or commercial may be acceptable in one state and not in another. So before you launch a “too good to be true” campaign you would do well have it reviewed by your counsel or to read up on your jurisdiction’s advertising rules.
Attend an AmSpa Medical Spa & Aesthetic Boot Camp to learn how to build and run a profitable, efficient, and legally compliant medical spa practice.
Patrick O'Brien grew up in west Texas loving the outdoors and Scouting, earning the rank of Eagle Scout. After attending Southwestern University, he worked in Margin trading with a major investment brokerage. There, he saw how yesterday’s decisions affect tomorrow, and learned how to proactively navigate situations to give clients the best possible outcome. This problem solving inspired his return to school and pursuit of a law degree from Southern Methodist University. He brings his legal training and business acumen to AmSpa to get ahead of legislative changes which affect our members. When he is not in the office he enjoys reading the same book to his toddler for literally the twentieth time today. But he laughs every time so it is worth it. He also loves cooking and spending time outdoors with his wife, son, and loyal hound.