Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which two were Upheld.
The website www.idealspinecentre.co.uk promoted Chiropractic services provided by "Dr Christian H E Farthing".
A web-page link was headed "MEET THE DOCTOR". Text on that web page stated "Dr Christian H. E. Farthing was born & raised in Tumut, Australia ... he attended the University at the Royal Melbourne Institute of (RMIT) Technology in Melbourne. In 1997 he gained a double degree in Bachelor of Applied Science (Clinical Science) and Bachelor of Chiropractic Science and swore an oath to become a Doctor of Chiropractic ... Dr Farthing is not a Chiropractor, Osteopath or Medical Doctor ... Dr Christian H. E. Farthing graduated with a double degree to become a chiropractor ... From 1996 to 2000 Dr Farthing completed post-graduate work in spinal correction, whilst working as a profession locum in practices throughout Australia". Further text on that web page continued to refer to "Dr Farthing" and further text in the "About us" section referred to "Dr Christian".
A link headed "A to Z conditions" led to a web page headed "The A to Z of conditions - Chiropractic Research" and listed ailments and conditions. Each ailment and condition provided a link to a web page which gave details of a case study related to the treatment of that ailment or condition.
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the use of the term "Dr" in relation to Christian Farthing was misleading; and,
2. the ad misleadingly implied that Chiropractic could treat the listed ailments and conditions, and whether those implied claims could be substantiated.
Zeetech Services Ltd t/a Canterbury Spine and Health Practice did not provide a formal response to the ASA.
The ASA noted that the website address ended co.uk and considered that it therefore addressed British consumers. We also noted that the Canterbury Spine and Health Practice was located in the UK and understood that was where its treatment services were predominantly offered. We noted that the Scope of the CAP Code stated: "(I) The Code applies to: h. Advertisements and other marketing communications by or from companies, organisations or sole traders on their own websites, or in other non-paid-for space online under their control, that are directly connected with the supply or transfer of goods, services, opportunities and gifts, or which consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of their own fund-raising activities".
We considered that the website www.idealspinecentre.co.uk was UK media directly connected with the supply of services. The advertising claims therefore fell within the ASA's remit.
The ASA considered that the title 'Dr' should not be used in ads unless the practitioner held a general medical qualification or unless it was made clear that the title was a courtesy title only, recognised by an appropriate body, and that the practitioner did not hold a general medical qualification. We noted we had not seen supporting documentary evidence that the term "Dr", as it appeared in the ad, was a courtesy title recognised by an appropriate body.
Moreover, although we noted that the ad stated "Dr Farthing is not a Chiropractor, Osteopath or Medical Doctor", we noted that that text was located in the middle of a large passage of text and considered that it was insufficiently prominent, in the context of the numerous and repeated references to "Dr" within the ad, to adequately qualify those claims. We also noted that the ad did not state that the title was a courtesy title.
We therefore concluded the use of the term "Dr" in relation to Christian Farthing, as it appeared in the ad, was misleading.
On that point, the claims breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
We noted the website featured a list of conditions and ailments headed "The A to Z of conditions - Chiropractic Research" and which provided a link to details of case studies related to the treatment of each ailment or condition. We considered that, in the context of a website offering Chiropractic services, consumers would understand that the list was setting out those ailments and conditions for which Chiropractic was a treatment and which the advertisers could therefore treat. Because we considered we had not seen sufficient evidence in support of the implied efficacy claims that the advertisers could treat the listed conditions and ailments, we concluded that the inclusion of a list of conditions and ailments was likely to mislead.
On that point, the claims breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.
Marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. Accurate and responsible general information about such conditions may, however, be offered (see rule 12.11).
Health professionals will be deemed suitably qualified only if they can provide suitable credentials, for example, evidence of: relevant professional expertise or qualifications; systems for regular review of members' skills and competencies and suitable professional indemnity insurance covering all services provided; accreditation by a professional or regulatory body that has systems for dealing with complaints and taking disciplinary action and has registration based on minimum standards for training and qualifications. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The claims must not appear again in their current form. We told the advertisers not to use the title "Dr" in their marketing, unless the practitioner was medically qualified or the ad made clear that the practitioner did not hold a general medical qualification and that the title was a courtesy title only, provided it was also recognised by an appropriate body. We told the advertisers not to imply that Chiropractic could treat ailments and conditions unless they held supporting evidence for those claims.