Join ADAMember Log In


Paying for your reputation

The lay media and Internet are a repository of all kinds of information, some factual, and some not-so-factual. Patients are using these resources with increasing frequency to help them make decisions concerning treatment procedures and who they choose to provide said treatment. Recent events have increased my concern about this practice.

I regularly receive solicitations from publications or Web sites asking me to be listed as a good dentist, top dentist, cutting-edge dentist and all around great guy—for a fee, of course. Most recently, a solicitation actually asked me to vote and comment on other dentists in the area. The same source offered to list me among their best dentists, again, upon payment of a fee.

I discard these solicitations faster than the words "who would actually pay for unearned praise?" flash by my smell test. And yet people do pay to have their names listed. I suppose that's fine. However, I wonder. Maybe the ads are just harmless advertising puffery—ad copy masquerading as fact. Perhaps their shameless self-adulation mostly just helps practitioners believe their own publicity.

Or is it something worse than that? Perhaps a disclaimer explaining the information should be offered, as is done on television infomercials. That would give the "whole truth."

And again from a patient perspective, any omission of his or her dentist's name from one of these lists may be seen in a negative light. If someone is not included in a list of the "best" dentists, does that somehow label them as less than desirable?

I would have expected dentistry to be a little above this sort of thing. I guess I was wrong. One thing I'm sure of is that the reputation I enjoy (or suffer) was earned by my skills, not by paying someone to list me as a "good dentist." I don't think one should pay for something that rightly ought to be earned.

Another concern is the Web sites and blogs that supposedly "inform" patients about treatment procedures and dentists. We've all seen and experienced the misinformation out there about dentistry from the uninformed and unintelligent. Why are we as dentists contributing to this?

At consultation appointments, I actually spend more time reversing misinformation than I do explaining pertinent diagnosis and treatment. I am constantly amazed how patients will put more credibility in a slick ad or blog than in trusting their doctor's advice. Blogs are a special concern, since they sometimes consist of little more than unsubstantiated ravings from malcontents. Having your name mentioned negatively without the opportunity of rebuttal can be devastating for a reputation.

Is all of this a reflection of how poor our relationships have become with patients, or evidence that the slick deceptions are working? I would like to think the latter. Neither thought makes me feel very good.

I encourage you all to discuss these concerns with your patients and educate them about the dangers of misinformation and the difference between paid advertisements and facts. Get involved with and visit reputable dental sites and screen them for your patients. Perhaps you can develop your own resources for your patients to access to obtain accurate and ethical material.

Dentistry is difficult enough without having to constantly correct misinformation, expose advertisements disguised as fact and debunk spurious publications. We can't control the garbage being printed, or being put online, but we can expose it for what it is.

Dr. Johnston is editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Michigan Dental Association. His comments, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared in the June issue of that publication.

Editor's note: The ADA Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs studied a number of "best dentists" lists in 2005, and was informed by the publishers of such lists that, among other things, they keep their advertising/marketing departments separate from their survey/polling departments.

In addition, dentists are not required to buy an ad in the publication to be included on their "best dentists" lists.

CEBJA recommended the following resolution which was adopted by the ADA House of Delegates that same year: "Resolved, that American Dental Association policy is that any published lists of 'best dentists' should incorporate a full disclosure of the selection criteria, including, but not limited to, any direct or indirect financial arrangements."