The watchdog acted after receiving 31 complaints from doctors, the medical professional union Doctors In Unite, and campaign organisation 38Degrees, which registered a complaint on behalf of over 83,000 petitioners.
The ads banned by the ASA include posters displayed on London Underground trains, a YouTube video, paid-for Google ads, and pages on Push Doctor’s website. The watchdog investigated the ads, focusing on the wording of text on the website, web ads and posters, which it said implied that the product was a service run by the NHS.
In particular, the ASA took issue with Push Doctor’s slogan ‘You will never go to the doctor’s [sic] again’, which it said implied that the service was an online method of consulting NHS GPs, rather than a way of accessing private consultations.
The ASA said that posters and ads for the app did not make clear that Push Doctor was a private healthcare provider, especially when combined with the general public’s low awareness of the brand itself. The watchdog also highlighted a paid-for search ad on Google, which said that Push Doctor was an ‘NHS commissioned [sic] technology provider’.
In response, Push Doctor said that it “did not attempt to mislead consumers into thinking that they were a service run by the NHS,” and that its slogan would have been understood by viewers and consumers as an obvious exaggeration.
The ASA concluded that Push Doctor’s ads were likely to mislead consumers. In addition to banning ads that implied a relationship between Push Doctor and the NHS, the ASA also said that ads featuring inaccurate consumer reviews were disingenuous. YouTube videos featuring out-of-date five-star scores from Trustpilot TrustScore were posted on the brand’s channel on the platform, and were presented, the ASA said, in a way which “was likely to mislead.”
The watchdog has said the ads must not appear in the same form again, and told the company to “ensure their ads did not imply that they provided an NHS service or that their service was free of cost.”
The ASA did not uphold complaints relating to PushDoctor’s TV spot, noting that while the ad only mentioned costs in on-screen text, the spot’s voiceover did not reference the NHS or suggest that the service was free.
Push Doctor raised $26.1m in venture capital funding in 2017, after a successful Series B funding round. However, the Care Quality Commission – the UK body which regulates private medical firms – found last year that the company “was not providing safe, effective, or well-led services.”