Patient stories and testimonials can be a contentious area for practices. How do you communicate with patients about your practice and services? Like other aspects of running a business at present, that seems increasingly complicated.

At Tego, we understand that most healthcare and medical practitioners recognise the need for responsible advertising that won’t compromise the public’s health care choices. However, as healthcare businesses explore more ways to communicate with patients online, understanding what exactly is advertising under the National Law and when the rules apply is increasingly complex.

 The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) has progressively added to its guidance on advertising regulated health services. Its updated Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service (2020 Guidelines) came into effect on 14 December 2020 and helped clarify some of these nuanced issues.

What is content advertising? 

As the boundaries increasingly blur between advertising, education and information, AHPRA is focusing on the intention and effect of communications. Any communication may be considered advertising if it promotes and seeks to attract a person to a regulated health service provider and/or attract a person to use the regulated health service.

Social media content could also be considered advertising. As could podcasts, public speaking engagements, books, media appearances, patient information sheets, patient recalls or other professional notices, office signage or mobile communications.

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Here is what you need to know

Advertisements could breach the National Law if, for example, they:

  • Create an unreasonable expectation of outcomes or recovery time.
  • Overstate the potential benefit, or
  • Minimise the complexity or risk.

Plus be particularly careful to avoid:

  • Claims your health service is superior.
  • Claims about the effectiveness of a particular treatment or suggesting it can ‘cure’ a condition.
  • Suggesting treatments are ‘safe’, ‘effective’, ‘painless’, ‘infallible’.
  • Implying the practitioner has an exclusive or unique skill, or a particular qualification that they do not hold.
  • Patient stories or images that may create an unreasonable expectation of benefit. Any claims about effectiveness need to be backed by acceptable evidence, and the guidelines also explain what sort of evidence would be acceptable.

In the case of an agency or third-party publishing material, AHPRA considers you the advertiser if you publish or authorise content, direct someone else to draft or publish it, or if you are able to remove it.

Ensure anyone creating or publishing content on your behalf understands the advertising restrictions, and that you review content produced as you will be ultimately responsible. While AHPRA has announced an audit of health practitioner advertising, it reiterates its strategy is to encourage compliance, and any regulatory action will be proportionate to any risk to the public. With this in mind, continue to communicate with patients, but understand your obligations and seek advice if in doubt.

Let the team at Tego help you 

We are Australian medical indemnity insurance providers and cover your practice with medical indemnity insurance, doctors indemnity insurance, gp medical indemnity insurance, medical malpractice insurance, medical practice insurance, and more. If you are a health practitioner with Tego, we offer 24/7 medico-legal advice and support in regards to what you need to know about how to deal with advertising.

This publication is general in nature and is not comprehensive or constitutes legal or medical advice. You should seek legal, medical or other professional advice before relying on any content, and practice proper clinical decision making with regard to individual circumstances. Persons implementing any recommendations contained in this publication must exercise their own independent skill or judgment or seek appropriate professional advice relevant to their own particular practice. Compliance with any recommendations will not in any way guarantee discharge of the duty of care owed to patients and others coming into contact with the health professional or practice. Tego Insurance Pty Ltd is not responsible to you or anyone else for any loss suffered in connection with the use of this information. All content on this page has been written in a generic way, and has not been presented with any knowledge of your personal objectives or financial needs.