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Prior review for online medical service advertisements on Youtube and SNS channels should be strengthened. 2019-11-18

Prior review for online medical service advertisements on Youtube and SNS channels should be strengthened.

 

 

 

    Medical services can have a great impact on the lives and health of people, and thus the harmful effects resulting from inaccurate or misleading advertising of medical services can be more serious than others. With the recent growth of advertisements for medical services through online channels, medical service advertisements suspected of violating medical law have been posted in real time, bringing concerns about consumer damage.

 

    Accordingly, the Korea Consumer Agency (President Lee Hee-sook) investigated the current status of the medical service advertisements posted on Youtube and SNS (Instagram, Kakaostory, Facebook), in collaboration with Consumers Korea (President Baek Dae-yong) and Patient Rights Ombudsman.

 

Ads related to the discount or exemption of non-covered medical expenses, including ‘special offer’ events, accounted for the largest share of the medical service advertisements prohibited at 46.8%.

 

    Article 56 (Prohibition, etc. against Medical Service Advertisements) of the Medical Service Act stipulates that any medical corporation, medical institution, or medical personnel shall not run: advertisements with any content that causes consumers to obtain the discount or exemption of non-covered medical expenses (‘special offer’ events, etc.) in the manner that is likely to deceive consumers or give them wrong information; advertisements with any content that is likely to mislead consumers by guaranteeing the effect of treatment through advertising the treatment stories patients; and advertisements with any content that compares with a function or treatment method of any other medical institution or medical personnel, etc. Furthermore, a prior review system for medical service advertisements* has been operated in order to provide consumers with accurate information.

* Each advertisement to be run by any medical corporation, medical institution, or medical personnel by means of the media (newspapers, magazines, broadcasting, etc.) subject to review shall undergo a prior review of the organization or group prescribed by the Medical Service Act in regard to its contents, methods, etc.

 

    The results of the investigation found that the number of advertisements suspected of violating the medical law amounted to 833. By type, ads with content that causes consumers to obtain reduction of or exemption from non-covered medical expenses (‘special offer’ events) accounted for 390 (46.8%), followed by ads with content that is likely to mislead consumers by guaranteeing the effect of treatment through the ‘treatment stories of patients’ (390 or 46.8%)), and ads with content that compares with a function or treatment method of any other medical institution or medical personnel, etc. (44 or 5.3%).

 

    By media channel, Instagram accounted for the largest share with 432 ads (51.9%), followed by Youtube (156 ads or 18.7%) and Facebook (124 ads or 14.9%), and in particular, ads for ‘special offer’ events which are normally run with images and posts were commonly found on SNS.

 

 

[ Type of medical service advertisements suspected of violating the medical law ]

Classification

Youtube

SNS

Total

Instagram

Kakaostory

Facebook

‘Special offer’ events (ads with any content that causes consumers to obtain the discount or exemption of non-covered medical expenses)

4

265

63

58

390 (46.8)

Advertising the treatment stories of patients

108

133

41

34

316 (38.0)

Comparison with a function or treatment method of any other medical institution or medical personnel, etc.

6

15

6

17

44 (5.3)

Guaranteeing the effect of treatment (any content that is likely to mislead consumers about the effect of treatment)

19

9

6

8

42 (5.0)

Ads with any content that directly exposes performance of medical treatment, such as the scene of an operation

16

10

0

1

27 (3.2)

Use of the name of an unauthorized surgery or treatment(false or exaggerated advertisements)

3

0

5

6

14 (1.7)

Total

156(18.7)

432(51.9)

121(14.5)

124(14.9)

833(100.0)

1) Refer to the ‘Criteria for a Voluntary Prior Review’ of the Korean Medical Association.

2) The ads mentioned in the table above are those ‘suspected of violating the medical law’, and in the case of ads with the content of ‘special offers’ or ‘treatment stories of patients’, it needs to be determined whether the ads violate the medical law, based on the likelihood of hurting the order of the medical service market, and misleading consumers.

 

 

    The current Medical Service Act prohibits advertisements with any content that causes consumers to obtain the discount or exemption of non-covered medical expenses in the manner that is likely to deceive consumers or give them wrong information*.

* Posting of false or inaccurate information is prohibited regarding the amount, subject, and period of the discount or exemption of non-covered medical expenses, and the original non-covered medical expenses before such expenses are discounted or exempted. (Enforcement Decree of the Medical Service Act)

 

    However, the non-covered medical expenses vary depending on medical institutions, and this makes it difficult for consumers to determine if the discount information (discounted amount, range, discount rate, original price before discount, etc.) provided through advertisements is fair and reasonable, increasing the likelihood of misleading consumers.

 

Online advertisements showing their content in the form of an expert opinion need to be regulated.

 

    The Medical Service Act also prohibits advertisements that show their contents in the form of a news article or expert opinion provided with information (contact number, rough map, etc.) about a certain medical institution or medical personnel through a newspaper (including an online newspaper), broadcasting medium, magazine, or any other medium, because this type of advertisement can increase consumer trust, regardless of whether it is true or not, and thereby have a significant impact on consumer choice. However, there exist limitations in applying the law to online media where an increasing number of advertisements are run, bringing concerns over related consumer damage.

 

 Prior review should be strengthened by clarifying the standard for selecting medical service advertisements which are subject to review.

 

    The Enforcement Decree of the Medical Service Act defines the media subject to prior review for advertisements of medical services as ‘the Internet and social media (SNS) whose average number of users per day was at least 100,000 for the last three months preceding the end of the previous year.’ And according to this provision, Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, etc. have been subject to prior review by a review organization.

 

    Given the characteristics of the Internet media, however, the number of users is not always proportionate to the impact of medical service advertisements, and it is also not clear whether the number of users constitutes the average number of media users or the number of users of an individual channel or account. Therefore, improvements related to the number of users need to be made.

 

    In the meantime, the Korean Medical Association has recommended that advertisements of medical services which were subject to prior review should indicate the number or text of the certificate of prior review for medical service advertisements, but such an indication is not compulsory in relevant laws.

 

    In fact, only 6 out of 833 advertisements investigated indicated the certificate of prior review, and the other 827 advertisements did not indicate whether they underwent a prior review, requiring improvements.

 

    Based on the investigation results, the KCA will request relevant government organizations to ▲revise the standard for the number of users of the Internet and SNS media (‘more than 100,000’) which are subject to prior review, ▲expand the range of advertisements that are prohibited from showing their contents in the form of a news article or expert opinion into ads through online media, and ▲promote the indication of the certificate of prior review for medical service advertisements.

 

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