PHMC Digital Marketing Guidelines for Medical Practices

It’s an inconvenient fact that medical practitioners have it tougher than others when it comes to advertising their services. Whether you own a clinic or are involved in the management of a private hospital, there are stringent PHMC Digital Marketing Guidelines that regulate how you can or cannot promote your services.

What Are PHMC Digital Marketing Guidelines?

In 2019, the Singapore government introduced the Private Hospitals And Medical Clinics (PHMC) Advertisement Regulations. It dictates how healthcare institutions and private practitioners must act when advertising their services.

It serves as the fundamental guideline to ensure the licensee of healthcare institutions registered under the Private Hospitals And Medical Clinics Acts are in compliance with the law at all times.

If you own a clinic, clinical laboratory, or manage a private hospital, you’ll want to take heed of the PHMC guidelines. You don’t want to be caught running afoul of the law by committing offences stipulated in the guidelines.

Non-compliance with the PHMC regulation can result in stiff penalties and a dent in the otherwise solid reputation of your institution.

As one of the leading digital marketing companies in Singapore, we are familiar with the PHMC digital marketing guidelines and comply with them accordingly when managing our client’s advertising campaign.

In this article, we’ll highlight the key PHMC digital marketing guidelines and how to achieve compliance.

Guideline 1: Advertisement Platforms

You’ll need to be mindful of where you’re advertising because ads showing up on the wrong channel can land you in legal trouble. To simplify what’s written on the official guideline, we’ll run through a list of common advertising channels.

Newspaper, Magazines, Directories, and Medical Journals

Advertising on traditional printed media is allowed by the regulations. You can pay for ad spaces on such publications or have your institution listed on the business directories.

It is perfectly legal to print pamphlets and brochures advertising your healthcare services. However, it is the distribution method of the materials that put legality into question. It is against the law to send advertisement pamphlets and brochures to the recipient’s mailboxes without their consent.

The regulation on pamphlets and brochures is clearly defined. You can’t have them inserted into daily newspaper deliveries but you can make them available at your clinic or hospital. It is not against the law when patients or visitors pick up a brochure when they are at your premises.
SMS, MMS, Whatsapp, and Facebook Messenger

If you’re getting the idea of blasting your customers with promotional materials, you need to drop the idea off. According to the PHMC guideline, you can’t send unsolicited messages via SMS, MMS, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, or any sort of messaging service.

Similar to pamphlets distribution, you’ll need written consent from the recipients before you can start doing so. Legal justification aside, it’s incredibly annoying and unprofessional to receive ads through personal communication channels when the users have not agreed to such arrangements.

Social Media and Blog

With 4.5 million active users, social media is huge in Singapore. It is only natural that you want to advertise your healthcare services on a common social network. The good news is, paying for ads on social media is allowed, according to the PHMC guidelines.

Of all the social media networks, Youtube has the largest monthly users in Singapore. You may want to attract the viewer’s attention with catchy and engaging video ads to drive leads to your healthcare business.

It’s also plausible to advertise on Facebook, as its user base is geared towards working adults. You’ll get the best results by engaging a Facebook ads agency in Singapore that is familiar with the targeting options and strategies.

Social media are powerful advertising platforms but don’t forget the many blogs with local followers. You can rent an ad space from the blog owners to promote your services legally. If you’re unsure how to promote your service effectively on the internet, here’s how to get started in digital marketing.

Search Engines

Google is the dominant search engine in Singapore and having your website found via paid ads or SEO is perfectly legal. Unlike sending ads on messengers, SEO and SEM are not considered as push technologies, and thus, they are at your disposal as lead generators.

You’ll get quicker results with paid Google ads, provided that you’re hiring an agency with credible Google ads management in Singapore. You need to get the keywords, budget and ads copy done right to get the most of the investment.

At the same time, it’s advisable to optimize your website’s SEO if you wish to get organic search traffic with minimum cost in the long run.

Other Medias

What about advertising on public channels like television, billboards, light boxes, LED displays, banners and such?

Unfortunately, they are a strict no-no, according to the PHMC guidelines. None of your ads can be displayed in medium other than those specifically green-lighted by the MOH.

The only exception is as follows.

Within Physical Premises

There isn’t any limitation imposed on how you can advertise your services within your premises. You can run video ads over private TV channels, put on large LED displays or adorn the concierge with banners.

Even if you’re given the freedom to advertise on your premises, do keep in mind that the content must still comply with existing regulations.

Guideline 2: Display of accreditation, certificates or awards

Throughout the years, your clinic or hospital may have won a series of prestigious awards. Ideally, you would want to highlight them in the advertisements as they would definitely instil trust.

However, you can only do so in a restricted manner, according to the PHMC guidelines. The guidelines specifically state that any award received by an institution can only be displayed within its own premise, website or social media page.

Therefore, it is permissible to showcase the awards in your clinic/hospital or dedicate a special gallery for that on the Facebook page. Of course, you shouldn’t include a screenshot of such awards on newspaper ads because it isn’t allowed.

It is also important not to confuse awards conferred to institutions with the professional qualification of the medical professionals serving the public. The latter is to prove that the healthcare practitioners are qualified to serve in their respective positions.

Guideline 3: Specific Requirements for the Content of Advertisements

Besides advertising on permissible platforms, you should also be mindful of how you craft the ads content. There’s a series of do’s and don’ts outlined by the MOH for healthcare-related ads.

Ads must be factually accurate

Every medical claim on the ads must be accurate. You need to include resources, proofs or facts that could substantiate such claims. It’s illegal to include unproven statements just for the sake of market appeal.

Ads must not be offensive, ostentatious or in bad taste

You need to be sensitive to the public when designing the ads. The guideline prohibits usage of materials that could cause unease, fear or other negative emotions to the public. Instead, you’ll want to strike a positive tone in the ads.

Ads must not create unjustified expectations

The healthcare industry is very competitive in Singapore. In your bid to standout from the crowd, you’ll need to avoid creating ads that are deemed to create unjustified expectations from the audience.

According to the PHMC guidelines, it is against the law to imply that only your institution can produce certain results. Your ads can’t contain text that runs down your competitors whether directly or indirectly. It’s illegal to imply in any manner that other healthcare providers are inferior to yours.

Even if you’re confident in getting results for patients, you’ll want to be wary with the choice of words. Including statements like ‘Instant results’, ‘whiter teeth in 2 weeks’ and ‘transformation with only 1 session’ are prohibited. That’s because patients' experience may vary and you can’t guarantee that all will fall within the ‘expected’ results.

You’ll need to tread carefully on how your word the ads. If you’re unsure of what is permissible, get help from an agency with proven digital marketing in healthcare experience.

Ads must not contain ‘before & after’ or ‘after’ only pictures

There’s nothing more convincing than putting on comparison pictures to prove that the treatment offered is effective. However, the PHMC guidelines prohibit such marketing manoeuvres on the ads. You’re not allowed to place any pictures depicting the results of patients that sought treatment from your institution.

Ads must not contain laudatory statements

Regardless of how well your clinic or hospital has been treating its patients, you’re prohibited from using laudatory terms in the ads. Terms like ‘Best’, ‘Preferred’, and ‘Unrivalled’ impress upon the audience that choosing your service is a natural decision, but they are not allowed by the PHMC guidelines.

So, steer clear from these phrases in your ads

  • Advanced e.g. technology, method, precision;
  • Centre of excellence;
  • Champions;
  • Choice/only choice;
  • Deluxe
  • Premium
  • Greatest

Ads must not contain testimonials (with an exception)

It’s encouraging to have customers singing praises of your services. They are a powerful form of marketing when used right. However, there’s a restriction on how you can use testimonials in your ads.

According to MOH, you’re not allowed to include testimonials in the ads, if they are to be published on 3rd party platforms. For example, if you’re advertising in a newspaper, it’s prohibited to cite your patient’s words of how effective the treatment has been.

The only exception of including testimonials in ads is when you’re publishing the materials on your premise, website or social media page. Even then, the testimonials must be in their original form and remain unaltered.

Ads must not solicit the use of HCI services

Sometimes, a little financial nudge can turn an audience into a paying customer. While offering discounts is a common marketing practice, it is prohibited to do so in a healthcare advertisement.

You can’t entice the public with discounts, promotions, free gifts, interest-free instalments or any financial benefits of choosing your service. For example, advertising a health screening package with a generous 50% discount on Facebook is against the law.

Conclusion

Navigating the stringent PHMC digital marketing guidelines isn’t easy as an oversight could bring unwanted troubles from the government. With this explanatory guide, you can attempt to design your own ads.

Other useful, relevant articles that you should read before embarking on digital marketing for medical practices include:

Alternatively, reach out to digital marketing companies Singapore medical practices trust. Heroes of Digital is the leading digital marketing agency for doctors and clinics. Contact our experienced healthcare digital marketing team for more support.

Xavier Tan
Co-Founder
Xavier is the Co-Founder of Heroes of Digital. He started social media marketing and SEM long before it became popular in Singapore. His passion is in helping businesses grow through effective lead generation. He has overseen campaigns for Amara Hotel, NTU, Marina Bay, L'Oreal, and 100+ SMEs.

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