American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Issues in Ethics: Public Announcements and Public Statements

About This Document

Published 2010. This Issues in Ethics statement is a revision of Public Announcements and Public Statements (2008). It has been updated to make any references to the Code of Ethics consistent with the Code of Ethics as revised in 2010. The Board of Ethics reviews Issues in Ethics statements periodically to ensure that they meet the needs of the professions and are consistent with ASHA policies.

Issues in Ethics Statements: Definition

From time to time, the Board of Ethics determines that members and certificate holders can benefit from additional analysis and instruction concerning a specific issue of ethical conduct. Issues in Ethics statements are intended to heighten sensitivity and increase awareness. They are illustrative of the Code of Ethics and are intended to promote thoughtful consideration of ethical issues. They may assist members and certificate holders in engaging in self-guided ethical decision making. These statements do not absolutely prohibit or require specified activity. The facts and circumstances surrounding a matter of concern will determine whether the activity is ethical.

General Principle

In the ASHA Code of Ethics (2010), the third principle concerns the responsibility that professionals have to the public. It states that "individuals shall honor their responsibility to the public by promoting public understanding of the professions ... and by providing accurate information in all communications involving any aspect of the professions." Under this principle, Rule F specifies that in any form of communication with the public the professional's statements must "provide accurate information about the nature and management of communication disorders, about the professions, about professional services, about products for sale, and about research and scholarly activities."

Rule G specifically addresses ethical concerns relating to advertising: "Individuals' statements to the public when advertising, announcing, and marketing their professional services; reporting research results; and promoting products shall adhere to professional standards and shall not contain misrepresentations." Public statements or announcements of services, products, or publications attributable to individuals should therefore serve to provide accurate and adequate information to aid the public in making informed choices in matters concerning the professions and the services rendered by their practitioners. This general principle and these specific rules must be observed as an affirmative ethical obligation of all individuals, whether they act independently or represent an institution, agency, or organization.

General Guidelines

I. Announcement of Services in Print or Electronically

  1. Generally, individuals may use as a guide the type of announcement customarily used by other professionals in their local communities. Professional announcements normally include the following:

    1. Identification, using appropriate titles. Speech-language pathologist and audiologist are the official titles of professionals in the field of communication disorders.

    2. Fees, listing fixed prices or a stated range of prices for specified professional services. When additional charges may be incurred for an integral part of the overall service, these additional fees should be stated.

    3. Qualifications, including certification, licensure, education, experience, and biographical data.

    4. Services, including specialties or restrictions.

    5. Location, hours, and contact information such as telephone number, e-mail address, or URL for Web sites.

    6. Staff or associates' names and qualifications.

  2. In making information available to the public in print or electronically, individuals are responsible for fairly and accurately representing their services and the professions; the public must be adequately informed and not misled about the practitioner's areas of competence or the services she or he provides. It is thus appropriate to list items such as certification, licensure, honorary awards, and accreditation of a graduate academic program by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology, but not to describe any particular expertise that supposedly results from any of those matters. Additionally, individuals should

    • describe services, credentials, qualifications, clinical specialty certification, facilities, staff, and products dispensed in a factual, nonevaluative manner;

    • use appropriate and accurate terminology.

    Individuals should not

    • misrepresent the nature or extent of services provided;

    • guarantee the results of any treatment or procedure, directly or by implication;

    • list fees in a misleading manner—for example, one level of service (diagnostic) may not be offered at a specified fee when, in fact, a lower level of service (screening) is provided;

    • state or imply claims of unusual professional skills;

    • compare their abilities with those of other individuals;

    • place "blind" listings (e.g., announcements that say, "Call this number for speech therapy services," omitting the name of the individual, agency, or corporate entity offering services) in the classified section of newspapers or other periodicals.

The question of whether it is ethical to use laudatory comments or testimonials from clients is a contested one. Certainly, the comments of a client should never be used without the client's explicit permission. There is no question that it is thoroughly unethical to coerce clients into offering laudatory comments, and in the practitioner–client relationship, forms of coercion can be very subtle. Consequently, special care must be taken to ensure that clients understand their rights with respect to providing information concerning their treatment and their evaluation of that treatment.

Another ethical problem that arises in the use of laudatory comments is that the practitioner culls them from a mass of comments, many of which may be neutral and some of which may be quite negative. For that reason, the Board of Ethics cautions professionals regarding the use of laudatory comments, as they are potentially misleading to the public. The Board recommends an approach that involves collecting evaluations from a representative sample of all clients and providing a statistical picture from the aggregated evaluations. Larger institutions might consider having the data collected and analyzed by a third party. Smaller practices that collect and analyze the feedback themselves might consider having someone outside the practice periodically review their data analysis for accuracy.

II. Promotional Activities

  1. In representing their services or professional products to the general public, individuals accept the obligation to present information as objectively and accurately as possible and to avoid misleading the public by misrepresentation through implication or deception.

  2. Individuals offering free speech or hearing screening should give those who need further services a choice of referral sources. Individuals should avoid participation in any activities recommending to the general public the use of any single-source product or service.

  3. Individuals shall not use their affiliation with ASHA to endorse the marketing and promotion of products, whether related or unrelated to the professions.

III. Other Constraints on Advertising

  1. The rules set out in this statement are offered only as general guidelines for application of the Code of Ethics of the Association with regard to public statements and announcements. In addition, individuals may be subject to various state laws such as licensure laws. Individuals may be subject also to the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission governing the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. Individuals must be aware, therefore, that there are other restraints in the area of professional advertising, which, indeed, may be greater than those set forth in this statement. If ASHA guidelines should prove less restrictive in any respect, individuals must adhere to any higher standards that might be applicable. This statement does not purport to give legal advice in this regard.

Definitions

Individuals: All persons who are bound by the Code of Ethics.

Public statement: Any direct or indirect statement, suggestion, or implication, including but not limited to one that is made orally, in writing, pictorially, electronically, or by any other audio or visual means, or by any combination thereof.

Announcement of services: Any written or oral statement, illustration, sign, notice, or depiction, in print or in an electronic medium, that is designed to inform the public about professional services or products related to the field.

References

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2010). Code of ethics. Available from www.asha.org/policy.

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