New Guidelines On Social Media Advertising Of Medical Devices

Author:Mr Ernesto Apa (Portolano Cavallo) and Elisa Stefanini (Portolano Cavallo)
Profession:Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance (GALA)

A few months ago, the Italian Ministry of Health ("Ministry") published new guidelines for the advertising of medical devices (the "Guidelines"), that updated the previous version, dated March 28, 2013.

The Guidelines provide for a comprehensive regulation of the advertising of medical devices through the main communication channels but, compared to the previous version, they particularly focus on online advertising. They introduce, for the first time: (i) a regulation of the advertising of medical devices through social networks, and (ii) a comprehensive regulation of advertising on the Internet, both through institutional sites and third parties' websites.

Advertising on social networks

The Guidelines reproduce almost literally the Ministry's guidelines of July 2017 concerning the advertising of the over-the-counter (OTC) medicinal products: (a) advertising is allowed only on the social networks expressly listed in the Guidelines, namely Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, so that advertising on any other social network is prohibited; (b) advertising on social networks must be previously authorized by the Ministry; and (c) messages on social networks must be "static", meaning that they cannot be changed by the advertising company or by any third party, therefore the functions that allow users to post comments under the posted advertising messages must be disabled.

Since it is technically impossible to restrict the ability of users to share messages on Facebook, it is possible therefore to add comments, the Guidelines provide that the advertiser shall insert the following disclaimer: "The Ministry of Health only authorizes the content of the advertising message. Any comments are the sole responsibility of the user and the company does not assume any responsibility for the users' comments".

According to the Guidelines the companies' websites that promote the company's image or logo (i.e., institutional websites) may publish the list of the medical devices commercialized by that company, as well as the image of their packaging with the brand, the trade names and the instructions for use, without any message regarding the health properties of the products. In such cases, as no specific properties of the medical devices are claimed, no prior...

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