THIS ADJUDICATION REPLACES THAT PUBLISHED ON 19 DECEMBER 2012. THE WORDING HAS CHANGED BUT THE DECISION TO UPHOLD THE COMPLAINT REMAINS.
Claims on www.woodvaleclinic.com/qual.htm stated: "Welcome to the Woodvale Clinic Dr. John W. Stowell L.D.S R.C.S. (Eng) B.D.S F.D.S R.C.S (Edin) G.D.C. Registered Specialist in Oral Surgery".
The complainant challenged whether the use of the term "Dr" was misleading, because it implied that the practitioner, a dentist, held a general medical qualification.
Woodvale Clinic said the honorary title 'Dr', which featured on the website, was also used by most of the 39,700 dentists in the UK. They said the General Dental Council (GDC) and British Dental Association (BDA) allowed the use of the honorary title 'Dr'. They provided correspondence which showed that the Royal College of Surgeons and CareQuality Commission also used the title 'Dr' when liaising with the advertiser. They said they had consulted with a number of colleagues, who all considered that the ASA was out of step on the issue. They stated that the BDA was a responsible body, which was the main representative body of dentists in the UK, as well as the main negotiating body for dentists in the UK and the trade union. They said the GDC also represented patients by registering and disciplining dentists. They therefore considered that the BDA and GDC were very important in showing the current thinking and further supported the position that 'Dr' was a recognised title used by the dental profession. They felt that, because the BDA considered it acceptable for dentists to use the honorary title 'Dr', it did not act to the detriment of patients and was not misleading.
They understood that 'Dr' was an internationally recognised title used by dentists globally and they were not aware of any countries which did not allow dentists to use the title 'Dr'. They stated that many dentists who had trained and qualified abroad had a dental degree which allowed the title 'Dr', such as DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery). They stated that title was not a doctorate in line with a PhD, but was a title conferred by that degree.
They added that the website specifically stated that Dr. John W. Stowell was a registered Dental and Oral Surgeon (Specialist List inclusion) and listed his dental degrees. They stated that if he were a medical doctor, then that would have been made clear in the list of qualifications, as he would have listed the relevant degree, such as MB, BS or MD. They provided several examples of randomly selected websites for other dentists in the local area which they noted all used the honorary title 'Dr'.
The ASA understood that the honorary title 'Dr' was widely used by dentists. We noted that the claims featured in the "Qualifications" section of the website and stated that the practitioner was a "Registered Specialist in Surgical Dentistry and Oral Surgery". We understood that, since 1995, the GDC had allowed dentists to use 'Dr' as a courtesy title, providing they did not otherwise imply that they were qualified to carry out medical procedures.
We considered, however that the title ‘Dr’ before a dental practitioner’s name should not be used in ads unless the practitioner held a general medical qualification or unless it was made clear that it was a courtesy title only and that the practitioner did not hold a general medical qualification. We noted from the list of qualifications included in the website that the practitioner was not medically qualified. We also noted that the website did not explain that the title ‘Dr’ was a courtesy title only. We therefore concluded that the use of the title ‘Dr’ in the ad was likely to mislead.
The claim 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).
The claim must not appear again in its current form. We told Woodvale Clinic not to use the title ‘Dr’ in their ads, unless the practitioner was medically qualified or the ad stated, clearly and prominently and close to the practitioner’s title and qualifications, that the title was a courtesy title and the practitioner did not hold a general medical qualification.