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Doctor Doubt FTC Ruling's Public Benefit

By Elizabeth H. Wiltshire

Dr. Arnold S. Relman, Professor of Medicine, said yesterday that competitive and commercial advertising "would put an entrepreneur cast on medicine that it should not have," in reference to a recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruling which removes American Medical Association (AMA) restrictions on advertisement by physicians.

The AMA restricts advertising form rather than advertisements. Physicians may give factual information, such as educational background and experience, but may not solicit patients.

The five-member FTC must review the ruling before it becomes final. The AMA plans to appeal the decision.

Dr. Claude E. Welch, chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Registration and Discipline and clinical professor of Surgery emeritus, said yesterday the ruling "doesn't make any difference to us in Massachusetts," because they took similar steps several months ago when a state agency advised that changes would be necessary.

"There aren't going to be too many doctors and clinics that are going to be able to afford to advertise anyway," Welch said, adding physicians with small practices may not be able to lower prices, but large institutions may have more money to spare.

Relman said the AMA has been slow to give the public the factual information they need to choose a physician.

"The FTC would not be so aggressive in its behavior toward organized medicine if organized medicine had been more sensitive to the public," he added.

Dr. Howard H. Hiatt, dean of the faculty of public health, said yesterday, "I can't really believe the ruling will do the medical profession any harm.

"The more one can do to make people aware of who doctors are and what prices are the better," he added.

Dr. Grant Rodkey, assistant clinical professor of surgery, said yesterday the government should not interfere with the AMA's standards.

"This action is one of a number of actions the government is taking to break down the accreditation process in medicine," he said.

Rodkey said the AMA requires certain degrees of competence before awarding hospital privileges to specialists.

"The FTC seems to be saying when it talks about fair trade that it would benefit the public for any doctor who wants to take our hearts to be allowed to do so," he said

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