Advertising for Pharmacies and Pharmacists

A pharmacy is unlike any other business. The business of pharmacy and the commercial practices of pharmacists are heavily regulated by federal and provincial legislation, as well as policies and standards of practice put out by the Ontario College of Pharmacists (“OCP”). 

Pharmacists and pharmacies who wish to advertise their goods and services must do so carefully and with consideration for extensive federal and provincial legislation and OCP guidelines.  

Below are examples of some rules which apply to advertising in the pharmacy context.  The list is not exhaustive. 

The federal Food and Drugs Act and Regulations prohibits “false, misleading or deceptive” advertising of prescription or non-prescription medication, biologics (including vaccines), medical devices and radiopharmaceuticals. Examples of such advertising practices may include making claims without discussing safety information or side effects, or discussing off-label use of medication. 

The Food and Drug Act also prohibits consumer-directed advertising of prescription medication that claims to treat, prevent, or cure a number of serious diseases listed in a schedule to the Act, such as cancer, dementia, diabetes, etc. Consumer-directed advertising of prescription drugs may only include the drugs’ name, price, and quantity. 

Marketing practices such as the use of loyalty points, discounts, or gift inducements to attract patients is not acceptable in the pharmacy context. In addition, pharmacists are not permitted to either pay or receive referral fees from third parties as a result of patient referrals. 

The above rules apply to any form of advertising, including print, radio, internet, and social media. 

The regulation of drug and pharmacy advertising in Ontario is a complex web of legislation and OCP policies, standards of practice, and regulations. To ensure that pharmacists and pharmacies are not committing acts of professional misconduct or otherwise contravening the law, pharmacy professionals and pharmacy businesses should seek legal advice prior to commencing any advertising campaign.