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National Advertising Review Board Recommends Air Methods Modify or Discontinue Certain Claims

A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate advertising law body of BBB National Programs, has recommended that Air Methods Corporation modify or discontinue certain advertising claims for its Air Ambulance Transport service. The panel also upheld the advertiser’s appeal as to other claims.

The advertising at issue had been challenged by Global Medical Response, Inc. and its subsidiary, Air Evac EMS, Inc. (collectively, GMR), before the National Advertising Division (NAD). Following NAD’s decision, Air Methods appealed NAD’s recommendations.

In many areas of the U.S., particularly in rural areas, access to advanced medical services through ground ambulance transport is limited or non-existent. In those areas, air medical transport services use helicopters to transport patients to hospitals and burn centers in a timely manner. The parties to this proceeding and their competitors maintain fleets of helicopters staffed with trained medical personnel who are dispatched at the request of first responders, hospitals, or physicians.

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Many of the challenged claims relate to membership programs and fees associated with the air medical transport of patients. GMR offers a “subscription membership program,” but Air Methods does not.

GMR challenged several Air Methods express claims concerning memberships. The NARB panel considered whether such claims falsely imply that air medical transport businesses with membership plans (including GMR) decline to provide emergency medical transportation to patients who are not members.

The NARB panel agreed with NAD that the claims “Living Shouldn’t Require a Membership” and “Patient care decisions should never be made on the basis of membership” imply that a competitor emergency medical service will not provide service to a patient unless the patient has a membership with the competitor. Because it is not disputed that emergency medical services are not permitted by law to decline to provide service when summoned by medical professionals, the panel concluded that these two claims should be discontinued.

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However, the NARB panel agreed with the advertiser that what it refers to as a slogan, “No membership required,” could, depending on context, not convey a message about competitors. Therefore, the panel recommended that this slogan only be used in a context in which it is clearly referring to the advertiser’s own service and not to the business practices of competitors.

Regarding the claim “don’t fall victim to membership deception and money-making fraudsters – say NO to air medical memberships,” the NARB panel recommended that the first half of the sentence be discontinued because there was no evidence in the record to support the accusation of legal or ethical misconduct communicated by Air Methods’ reference to competitors as “fraudsters.”

However, the NARB panel recommended that the advertiser need only modify, rather than discontinue, use of the claim “say NO to air medical memberships” by eliminating any implication that memberships are fraudulent, deceptive, or provide no financial benefits to members.

Air Methods stated that it “will comply with NARB’s decision.” Further, the advertiser stated that although it “respectfully disagrees” with certain of NARB’s findings, “we support the self-regulatory process and will consider NAD’s and NARB’s recommendations with respect to future advertising.”

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[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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