New Ethical Principles for Protecting Patient Privacy in Marketing

In response to a recent article.

Our ad industry should take note of the ethical standards being advanced for protecting the privacy of patients when marketing client case studies. The National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) recognized successful case studies are one of the proven tools for encouraging addiction treatment, but require consideration to ensure patient privacy and to safeguard long-term recovery.

The NAATP’s revised code of ethics deal with the practice of misleading and deceptive marketing tactics, including those that could reveal a client’s identity. The principles include “hold sacred the shared value of our patients’ right to privacy.” A treatment provider may not reveal clients identities “in the form of photographic images, video images, media coverage, nor in marketing testimonials at any time during the client’s engagement in treatment.” Even after the treatment has concluded, treatment centers are urged to use caution in seeking permission to use testimonials, and some recommend against seeking and using testimonials from young clients not in a position to give informed consent to use their stories.

Certainly, those in our industry creating and disseminating marketing materials based ob patients’ successful medical treatment should adhere to these ethical standards. In fact, the federal government has rules and regulations protecting patients’ identities and health information.

The ethics behind the NAATP principles also applies to the need to protect consumer privacy in all marketing transactions. Our Institute’s Principles for Advertising Ethics include: “Advertisers should never compromise consumers’ personal privacy in marketing communications, and their choices as to whether to participate in providing their identity should be transparent and easily made.” (IAE Principle 6)

This ethical principle relates to marketing instances when we are using personal identifiers of the consume,r including photos, names and addresses. Also, consumers should be aware that their interests in products and services is being collected online and be given the choice of opting out.

A member of the NAATP ethics committee, Bob Ferguson, was quotes saying: “You want to apply the principles of common sense, fair play and the golden rule.” And as our Institute urges” “Do the Right Thing for the Consumer.”

About the Author

Wally Snyder

Wally Snyder has devoted his entire professional career to working on advertising development, regulation and ethics. He served as a trial lawyer and as Assistant Director for Advertising Practices at the Federal Trade Commission before joining the American Advertising Federation where he served as president and CEO, from 1992–2008. Currently, he serves as Executive Director for the Institute for Advertising Ethics. Wally was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame® in 2009.