Forum: Unbalanced doctors' information in ads may mislead laypersons

We refer to the letter by DoctorxDentist (Doctors' listing's aim is to offer expert health content, Nov 25).

It is important to note why the Singapore Medical Association and doctors have been steadfast and unwavering in their call for DoctorxDentist to remove the names of doctors from the website. Medical practice in Singapore has evolved to become more complex with advanced technology, new modalities of treatment and innovative communications means.

Coupled with the changing expectations of patients and the community served by doctors today, the Singapore Medical Council's (SMC) Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines (ECEG) and Ministry of Health (MOH) regulations dictate the ethical standards for doctors managing medical care for the betterment of patients. Doctors need to follow the SMC's ECEG and MOH directives. This is a non-negotiable part of a doctor's professional obligations.

One of the directives to doctors is on their professional obligations regarding advertising because information that is improperly presented or unbalanced may mislead laypersons, even to the extent of them seeking healthcare services they do not need. Because of this professional code, doctors' information should never be included without their knowledge or consent, nor should doctors be placed in predicaments where any third-party platform contradicts and keeps them from fulfilling their professional obligations. Doctors should be able to dissociate without fuss.

We note that DxD has now confirmed it will use an opt-in algorithm. We hope all similar websites that include doctors' names will apply this. Doctors should not be distracted from their key focus on healthcare matters. They should not need to set time aside to regularly check if their names have been auto-included without their consent or to write in to request dissociation. Opt-in participation remains the most practical and fair method because it puts the onus of assessing compliance with the ECEG and MOH regulations squarely on the doctors themselves.

We are heartened by SMC's announcement on Wednesday which confirmed the inadvisability of doctors opting in and participating in online search engine optimisation platforms that use patient feedback and ratings, as these feedback and ratings can be considered to be patient testimonials which are forbidden under SMC's ECEG. This offers clarity and helps doctors make informed decisions about the platforms they cannot participate in.

Ng Chew Lip (Dr)

Honorary Secretary

Singapore Medical Association