Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Vignette 14: The Psychology of Advertising


Dr. Ron Popeil, a local psychologist, is upgrading his web site.  Along with a variety of upgrades, the web developer/consultant suggests that he add a testimonial page where former patients describe their positive experiences in therapy.  Since the web developer/consultant wants to get that page up and running, he suggests that they use some positive ratings and responses from Angie’s list and several other ratings sites that tell positive stories and experiences with Dr. Popeil.
Dr. Popeil thinks these ideas are good.  However, he researches the APA Ethics Code and believes that he may be acting inappropriately.  To discuss the matter in further detail,  Dr. Popeil calls you for an ethics consult.
What are the ethical issues involved in this situation?
Are there any other concerns about the web developer/consultant’s strategies?
What are some recommendations that you would make to the psychologist?

48 comments:

Keely Kolmes, Psy.D. said...

This is a wonderfully complex issue.

Here is what I would say if my answer were based solely on what the Ethics Code says:

1) The Ethics Code only prohibits testimonials from current clients or anyone who is vulnerable to undue influence.

2) Former clients are not specifically mentioned in the Ethics Code section on testimonials.

The rest of my comments are simply my opinion on what I think are complex issues:

I'd be wary of using postings that clients have left on other sites on my own website. Clients who review a site on Yelp or Angie's List may not have any intention for the clinician to feature these words on their own website. This is a subtle distinction but possibly an important one when it comes to autonomy and consent.

Also, I'd still have confidentiality concerns. Our Ethics Code wrote about testimonials at a time before we had things such as web presences where people could click on a reviewer and find out all sorts of information about them. Testimonials used to refer to a sentence we put in our pamphlet, not something linked to someone's name and identity that all the Internet could see. Given this, I believe some caution should be exercised when trying to use client statements as part of one's advertising in the Internet age.

I think a better approach would be to collect aggregate data about client satisfaction or outcome measures that are not linked to
people's individual identities. This may have the same effect without revealing people's identity or putting them at risk.

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