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Battle Lines Drawn Over Health Care Transparency Act

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | May 18, 2010
Medical advertising is the focus
of proposed legislation
A bill introduced in Congress last week to thwart misleading advertisements from health care professionals has drawn the ire of a nurses' group that sees it as a "dangerous imposition" on nursing practice.

The bill, Healthcare Truth and Transparency Act of 2010, or H.R. 5295, would allow the Federal Trade Commission to slap health care professionals with fines up to $10,000 for failing to include their full credentials in advertisements or for misleading patients about their qualifications. Congressmen John Sullivan (R-Okla.) and David Scott (D-Ga.) introduced the bill in the House May 13. Rep. Jim McDermott (D.-Wash.), who along with Sullivan proposed an earlier version of the bill which died in the House in 2007, was a co-sponsor.

Some nurses' groups see the bill as a way to squelch the powers of advanced practice registered nurses or nurse practitioners. These nurses sometimes hold doctorates of nursing, but are not medical doctors, though they can be allowed to prescribe medicine or do more advanced treatment.

"The Healthcare Truth and Transparency Act is a product of the American Medical Association's ongoing effort to limit the scope of practice of health care providers who are not physicians," the American Nurses Association said in a statement.

But proponents of the bill say it has massive popular support and that it will help clear up patient misunderstandings.

A 2008 survey commissioned by the Scope of Practice Partnership, a group co-founded by the AMA, showed 93 percent of people supported legislation requiring medical professionals to clearly state their education, training and licensing in advertisements.

The survey also found widespread confusion about who was a doctor. Of the nearly 850 people polled by phone, a quarter believed physical therapists - and one out of 10 believed midwives - were medical doctors (they are not). Only one-third correctly identified otolaryngologists -- ear, nose and throat doctors -- as medical doctors.

"Many patients believe they are seeing a medical doctor when they are not, and research overwhelmingly shows that they want to know if their health care provider is a physician, a nurse, a technician or another medical professional," AMA President Dr. J. James Rohack said in a statement.

Supporters of the bill also say it's not singling out nurses, or any other health care professional, and just seeks to bring advertising standards in medicine in line with those of other industries.

"It's not targeting anybody. People can still practice what they're licensed to practice. It's only a truth-in-advertising legislation," a spokesman for Congressman David Scott told DOTmed News. "The health care bill is going to draw a lot more demand for health care services and medical schools of all types are going to be turning out lots of [professionals], and we just want to make sure that consumers are educated."

Heather Mayer contributed to this report.