Doctors Told Not to Appear in Drug Ads

Medical Association: 'A doctor will not deal in any way with the sale or endorsement of commercial products.'

The Health Ministry is barring health professionals from appearing in ads or commercials funded by companies, a move that would put an end to many advertisements Israelis have been seeing for problems such as impotence, baldness and high cholesterol.

"Any member of a medical team should refrain from advertising a health product - a prescription drug or any other health product," said the ministry's director general, Roni Gamzu.

Gamzu said the ban applies even when the endorsement does not mention the name of a product if a product's nature can be inferred.

The ministry says the ban extends to all health workers including dentists, nurses, pharmacists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

A doctor who violates the ban might face sanctions by the Israel Medical Association or the Health Ministry itself.

The ministry would charge transgressors under the clause "behavior not suited to a doctor," though it has yet to use this provision.

In recent years, pharmaceutical companies in Israel have increasingly advertised for prescription drugs for which explicit endorsements are not allowed.

For the past decade, the medical association has enforced its disciplinary code whenever doctors improperly appear in advertisements. Some 95 percent of Israeli doctors belong to the IMA.

Enforcement heightened after a report that an internist at a leading hospital took part in a television commercial for hummus.

The physician was summoned for a hearing by the association's ethics council and told to stop.

The council then crafted guidelines based on the standard that "a doctor will not deal in any way with the sale or endorsement of commercial products; he must not use his name, academic degree or professional status to benefit the economic interests of any commercial entity."

'Treatment not a product'

In a position paper drafted in August 2009, the ethics council concluded that medical treatment is not to be regarded as a consumer product; treatment depends on absolute trust between a patient and physician.

According to the paper, the selection of a physician or treatment should not be influenced by a doctor's promotion on radio or television.

In recent years, for example, media outlets have broadcast an advertisement against baldness that feature a dermatologist, Dr. Tzachi Shelkovitz.

Under the new guidelines, this ad, which targets professionals who treat baldness, would be termed improper.