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Responsible advertising for health services

If you advertise as a a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service you need to be sure that your advertising meets your legal obligations. The National Law sets out the requirements.

In December 2020, the Australian Health Practioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) released its revised Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service which provides fresh guidance on responsible advertising for healthcare professionals. The review was done in conjunction with a review of the Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy.

Section 133 of the National Law hasn’t changed. It states that advertising must not:

  • be false, misleading or deceptive, or likely to be misleading or deceptive
  • offer a gift, discount or other inducement
  • use testimonials or purported testimonials
  • create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment
  • encourage the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services.

What has changed? The key updates include:

  • acceptable levels of evidence to use when making claims about the effectiveness of a regulated health service
  • a proactive approach to ensuring advertising compliance
  • additional information about the use of professional titles, speciality, competence and qualification and what can be lawfully used in advertising
  • more information about testimonials and whether a review is considered a testimonial, including use on social media.

AHPRA states there's an important difference between acceptable evidence for claims made in advertising and the evidence used for clinical decisions about patient care. A framework is available for anyone advertising a regulated health service to use which provides guidance if there is acceptable evidence. A new self-assessment tool can also help check and explains action to take to correct advertising.

If you advertise a regulated health service, in the future you’ll need to declare if it is compliant when you renew your registration. You’ll need to be able to identify when material falls under the definition of advertising, be able to check and have evidence as random audits will be conducted.

AHPRA says it will continue to take a risk-based approach to assessing any breaches that may occur. It will take into account the severity of it, which is based on the risk it poses to consumers and whether it was unintentional or deliberate.

What is a testimonial?

AHPRA’s advertising guidelines define it as “recommendations or positive statements about the clinical aspects of a regulated health service used in advertising.” This can include patient stories, patient experiences, reviews or success stories whether or not they’re written in first or third person. Purported testimonials are not permitted either. For instance, a mock patient story.

Advertising is a helpful and effective way to communicate services that are available to the community. Ensure you create compliant marketing materials, websites, social media campaigns and blog posts. If you need some support, I can help.

Remember, people don’t seek healthcare services when they're feeling well. They do so when they’re trying to help themselves or someone close to them. Health issues can be stressful. People worry about health conditions as well as financial issues. When developing advertising content carefully consider the audience, the context of the message and how it may be interpreted.

All information is general in nature. Refer to AHPRA for full information (links below). If you need advice about whether your advertising complies with the National Law, you can seek advice from your professional association, an independent legal adviser or indemnity insurer.

Sources:-

AHPRA Advertising hub

Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service

Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009

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