Painless Parker was a flamboyant dentist in the early twentieth century who changed his name to further the marketability of his dental practices. His streetside lectures, circus-act-like antics, and buckets of extracted teeth splendidly marketed his self-perceived advanced ability with crude anesthetics and his supposedly adept oral surgical skills. He marketed his dental practices with such phenomenal success that his multiple office locations in California happened to make him millions. His monetary accomplishments and the perceived unprofessional marketing techniques by his clever yet legal use of the term “Painless” spurred an aggressive reaction from dental boards and associations across the USA that are still on the books today. In response to Dr. Parker’s unprofessional tactics, the Boards passed laws or promulgated rules that made it illegal to change one’s name in order to promote or further his or her practice — i.e., “Painless”.
Today when you search the internet or open the Yellow Pages to “Dentists” anywhere across the country, it becomes quickly apparent that the sentiments of old “Painless” are surging back with a vengeance. The seemingly clever marketing advisors who also seem to be ignorant of state statutes may have advised some of our fellow professionals to ingeniously use their clinic names as a “new” marketing tool. These new clinic names are indeed reminiscent of the Dr. Painless Parker era: Perfect, Advanced Care, Excellent Dental, Great, Best, Gentle, Relaxation, Sleep, Better, Best, Exact, Comfort, Personal, and many other terms that only the human imagination could limit are already being adopted. In this new age of multiple marketing techniques, many of our professional colleagues in this era of unfettered marketing options may be tempted to adopt such unprofessional marketing practices.
Minnesota state statute 150.11 clearly limits such promotions. It states:
150A.11 UNLAWFUL ACTS. Subdivision 1. Unlawful practice.
It is unlawful for any person to: enable an unlicensed person to practice dentistry; to practice or attempt to practice dentistry without a license; to practice dentistry under the name of a corporation or company; or to practice under any name that may tend to deceive the public or imply professional superiority to or greater skill than that possessed by another dentist.
The American Dental Associations Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct addresses this subject Under Section 5-Principle: Veracity 5.G. Name of Practice and 5.F.2. Examples of
“False or Misleading”
5.G. NAME OF PRACTICE.
Since the name under which a dentist conducts his or her practice may be a factor in the selection process of the patient, the use of a trade name or an assumed name that is false or misleading in any material respect is unethical. Use of the name of a dentist no longer actively associated with the practice may be continued for a period not to exceed one year.2
5.F.2. EXAMPLES OF “FALSE OR MISLEADING.”
The following examples are set forth to provide insight into the meaning of the term “false or misleading in a material respect.”2 These examples are not meant to be all-inclusive. Rather, by restating the concept in alternative language and giving general examples, it is hoped that the membership will gain a better understanding of the term. With this in mind, statements shall be avoided which would: a) contain a material misrepresentation of fact, b) omit a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading, c) be intended or be likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the dentist can achieve, and d) contain a material, objective representation, whether express or implied, that the advertised services are superior in quality to those of other dentists, if that representation is not subject to reasonable substantiation. Subjective statements about the quality of dental services can also raise ethical concerns. In particular, statements of opinion may be misleading if they are not honestly held, if they misrepresent the qualifications of the holder, or the basis of the opinion, or if the patient reasonably interprets them as implied statements of fact. Such statements will be evaluated on a case by case basis, considering how 13 patients are likely to respond to the impression made by the advertisement as a whole. The fundamental issue is whether the advertisement, taken as a whole, is false or misleading in a material respect.2
It seems that the law has to be changed or enforced, or we will welcome back the good old era of “Painless Parker”. If not, then our professional community needs to be re-educated in the area of our state’s jurisprudence, not to mention the ADA’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct.
P.S. I took my old unicycle out of the attic, I dusted it off, I am practicing my juggling, and I am getting ready for the circus to begin.
*Dr. Foy is a general dentist in private practice in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a member of the American Dental Association Council on Ethics and Judicial Affairs. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org