Regulators issue new advertising guidance for osteopaths

The Advertising Standards Authority has teamed up with the General Osteopathic Council to send new guidance to over 4,800 registered osteopaths. The guidance relates to marketing claims for pregnant women, children and babies and provides examples of what kind of claims can, and can’t, be made for these patient groups.

We have been concerned for some time that misleading advertising claims are widespread within the osteopathy profession, particularly in relation to the treatment of babies and children. For more than a year, we have been monitoring osteopaths’ websites and have reported over 300 osteopaths to the GOsC.

Following our initial 75 complaints, regulators sent a joint letter to osteopaths in September 2015, warning against advertising to treat various paediatric conditions. The letter included a list of conditions osteopaths should avoid claiming to treat. Osteopaths were warned that failure to comply could result in fitness to practise proceedings:

Unfortunately the impact of the letter was very limited. As we continued to monitor osteopathy advertising, we found no improvement in the rate of compliance, with roughly a third of osteopaths’ websites still problematic. We therefore continued to report osteopaths to the GOsC.

Although clear references to named paediatric conditions (eg colic) became less prevalent, implied references (eg “unsettled behaviour”) were still common. Many osteopaths also implied that unsettled behaviour and feeding problems in babies are caused by the birth process.

The ASA guidance now clarifies that indirect references to paediatric conditions, including descriptions of symptoms, should also be avoided. For example, it would be unacceptable for an osteopath to claim that they often work with crying, unsettled babies, as this implies that they would treat colic. The new ASA guidance also clarifies that osteopaths should avoid implying that the birth process is inherently traumatic for babies.

We hope that this greater clarity will lead to better advertising compliance across the profession.

We will continue to monitor osteopathy advertising and to raise concerns with the GOsC where appropriate. We will also be making complaints to the ASA, who seem both prepared and willing to deal with osteopaths who make misleading claims.

For further information download the guidance and see the updated Committee of Advertising Practice advice on marketing osteopathy.