Remaining Onside in Your Advertising: Obligations for MB Pharmacists

The ability to effectively promote and market your pharmacy and its services is fundamental to maintaining and growing a successful business. Where pharmacies diverge from other industries is that, in addition to federal and provincial legislation, the advertising methods and techniques available to pharmacies are subject to the direction of an independent regulatory body. In Manitoba, this independent regulatory body is the College of Pharmacists of Manitoba (the “College”). It’s important for you to ensure that your pharmacy’s advertisements comply with both legislative requirements and the policies put in place by the College.

This article provides an overview of the primary obligations pharmacies and pharmacists in Manitoba must comply with when advertising pharmacy services and the legal consequences of failing to comply with these requirements.

The legal obligations of pharmacies and pharmacists concerning the advertising of pharmacy services are governed, in part, by The Pharmaceutical Act (Manitoba) and its regulation, The Pharmaceutical Regulation (collectively, the “Act”), as well as the Food and Drug Regulation under the Food and Drug Act (Canada) (the “FDA”). The College also provides pharmacies and pharmacists with supplemental policies and practice directives for advertising pharmacy services.

The Act regulates all advertising used or conducted by, or engaged in for the purpose of promoting, a pharmacist, a pharmacy or pharmacy services. And it applies to any printed material, radio or television advertisements and any other promotion material that is made available to the public by electronic means or otherwise.

Advertising Requirements

For ease of reference, we have grouped the advertising requirements under the following three headings:

Advertising Services

 When advertising professional services and fees, you must not claim superiority over other pharmacies and/or pharmacists, use descriptive or qualifying words (e.g. “professional,” “trusted,” “prompt,” “licensed” or any similar description), use the word “specialist” or other words denoting a similar meaning (unless such member to whom the advertising relates has actually been qualified as a specialist under the Act), or claim exclusivity regarding an aspect of the practice of pharmacy.

If the advertised pharmacy services are necessary for the practice of pharmacy under either provincial or federal law, you must include the statement that such pharmacy services are “required by law in all Manitoba pharmacies” so as to prevent any misinterpretation by the public.

Advertising Prices and Disclosure of Fees

Advertisements may clearly cite prescription medication prices as permitted under the Act and the FDA, but must refrain from using vague references to prices (e.g. “lowest,” “discount,” “extra savings” or any similar description).

Advertising the price of non-prescription medication and unscheduled medicine is not restricted in the manner set out above when the advertising is “in good taste,” does not detract from the public esteem for the pharmacy profession and does not encourage large quantity purchases that are inconsistent with therapeutically acceptable levels of use. The College has not published a direction providing clarification as to advertising that is considered to be “in good taste.”

When advertising prescription drug prices, you must also ensure that the proprietary name of the drug (or identification of the manufacturer), generic name, dosage form and strength and price per dosage units are included in the advertisement, along with the phrase “only available by prescription.”

The dispensing fee for a drug may only be included in your pharmacy’s advertisement if the total price of the drug is also included in said advertisement. Where the dispensing fee is listed separately from the total price of the drug, the dispensing fee and total price of the drug must be displayed in the same text size and prominence.

Best Interest of the Public

While the College encourages you to promote your pharmacy’s services and business in a manner that advances the values and visions of the pharmacy profession, the health and well-being of the public is of paramount importance to the practice of pharmacy and the drafting of the legislation and supplemental policies governing pharmacy and pharmacist advertising.

Accordingly, the College mandates that all advertising of prescription medications shall support the safe and appropriate use of such medications, and in no circumstances may a pharmacy’s advertising influence members of the public into situations that could lead to the overuse of medications, to the purchasing of medications on particular days (that would be inconsistent with proper medication use) in order to qualify for additional gratuities, or to purchase of medications in quantities greater than those required by the customer.

Any promotional event that is used to encourage members of the public to use a pharmacy, must not encourage the transfer of prescriptions in exchange for a gift or additional gratuity, and must be coupled with a statement regarding the role of pharmacists in providing patient care and acting in the best interests of the patient, particularly that pharmacists shall hold the health and safety of each patient to be of primary consideration.

Failure to Comply

Failure to comply with the advertising requirements impairs patients’ abilities to make informed decisions regarding their healthcare needs and exposes pharmacies and pharmacists to the risk of sanction by the College. The disciplinary measures that a pharmacy and/or pharmacist may face depends on the degree to which the pharmacy and/or pharmacist departed from the required standard of advertising practice, and whether the patient subject to the advertising error was adversely affected by the error, among other things.

While the advertising requirements currently in place under the Act and pursuant to practice directions of the College may appear stringent, they are intended to ensure a level of honesty and transparency in the methods and messaging to protect the public’s interests.

You should ensure that your pharmacy develops policies related to advertising and regularly review these policies for accuracy and compliance with current regulatory requirements. By complying with the pharmacy’s legal obligations concerning advertising of pharmacies and pharmacy services, you can ensure that instances of non-compliance are minimized and that the general public is adequately and accurately informed as to the suitability of a pharmacy for each patient’s specific needs.

 Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights, remedies or obligations. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.