In January, a Texas court ruled that dentists who have bona fide credentialing in a specialty area not recognized as such by the ADA can advertise themselves as specialists.
According to the ADA, the suit was brought by the American Academy of Orofacial Pain, the American Society of Dental Anesthesiologists, the American Academy of Implant Dentistry and the American Academy of Oral Medicine.
In response to requests for summary judgment during the pre-trial phase, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found that the Texas Dental Board’s advertising regulations allowed the use of “specialist” and “specialities” only in conjunction with one of the nine ADA-recognized specialty areas.
The court held that the Board’s restrictive policy “violates the First Amendment rights of dentists who have earned credentials in other dental practice areas from competent, bona fide credentialing boards.”
There’s an old saying: “As California goes, so goes the nation.” Texas isn’t California, but if this ruling is allowed to stand it could be used as precedent in other jurisdictions to loosen the usage of the terms specialist and specialty.
What might this mean for you and your practice?
If your practice is located in Texas, it could be a game-changer.
You could be looking at a host of competitors touting their “new” specialities online, in print advertising, on outdoor boards, on TV and radio and in direct mail pieces. And if your practice offers services in the areas covered by the plaintiffs – orofascial pain, dental anesthesiology, implant dentistry or oral medicine – you might take a hit.
Of course, there’s been no indication whether the defendants in the case will appeal, so practitioners might decide to lay low until there’s more clarity.
If your practice isn’t in Texas, you likely won’t notice anything in the short term. Your advertising is governed by the rules of the state in which you practice, and those rules can vary. The Texas case basically opens the door to possible change, but change takes time. It seems likely that someone in another jurisdiction might file suit to overturn that state’s restrictions on the use of specialist and specialty.
So, why am I writing about this? First, I thought you should know. Second, it’s another example of how the marketing “game” can change very quickly.
I usually write about things like SEO, paid search, the evolution of online marketing. But marketing change can be driven by events outside the “tech universe.” This case might wind up being a game-changer.
Is your marketing broad-based enough, carefully considered enough, and robust enough to withstand unexpected challenges? Do you have a system of marketing in place that can adapt to the unexpected?
Or does change catch you flat-footed?
In the end, the Texas case may end up being overturned, and all of this will be no more than a blip in history. Or, it may open the door to a flood of similar lawsuits in different states. The issue might even wind up in front of the Supreme Court someday as it concerns First Amendment rights.
But new trends can start just this quickly from a single event. Is your marketing ready to handle them?