Recently Australia’s health advertising guidelines were updated. This means all health practitioners who advertise a regulated health service need to revisit the guidelines to ensure their advertising meets compliance.
Why have the health advertising guidelines changed?
AHPRA’s health advertising guidelines have been updated as part of a scheduled review to help healthcare practitioners better understand their obligations. Changes to the guidelines impact testimonials as well as protected titles and claims about registration, competence and qualifications. The guidelines have also been restructured so the information is easier to find.
Testimonials: what’s allowed and what’s not?
A common misconception about testimonials/reviews is that using them in your advertising is strictly forbidden. This is not the case. As a medical business you are allowed to use reviews in your advertising when they refer to non-clinical aspects of the patient experience. For instance, comments about your friendly reception team, the ease of parking or your comfortable waiting room are all allowed. While we don’t recommend republishing these types of non-clinical reviews, it’s important to know that this doesn’t breach National Law.
Prohibited testimonials are those that mention clinical aspects of your practice. For example, any review that mentions symptoms, treatments, diagnosis, health outcomes, or the skills of a practitioner.
The AHPRA guidelines include a helpful testimonial flowchart to help practitioners understand the use of testimonials in marketing a regulated health service.
What should I do if a patient mentions clinical aspects on Google or Facebook?
Facebook allows you to turn off the reviews feature and delete comments on your practice’s profile page. This means AHPRA considers any review made on Facebook to be under your control. We recommend turning off the reviews feature altogether or removing reviews/comments that refer to clinical aspects of the patient experience as they come in.
Google, on the other hand, does not allow the reviews feature to be turned off, thus AHPRA does not consider Google reviews to be within your control. This said, it’s important to note that responding to reviews that mention clinical aspects of the patient experience may be in breach of National Law. So the general rule of thumb is to ignore these reviews.
Why are we advised not to use the words ‘specialist’ or ‘specialises in’?
According to AHPRA, using the word ‘specialist’ or ‘specialises in’ implies additional qualifications, knowledge or expertise that may not be backed up with appropriate credentials. Therefore, it’s best to avoid these terms unless the practitioner holds a relevant specialist qualification.
How do we communicate our unique experience without using the words ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’ or ‘specialty’?
Here are some ways you can express that a practitioner specialises in a particular area without using the term ‘specialises in’:
- Our practice is focused on…
- We have unique expertise in…
- I have a special interest in…
- We have X years of experience in…
Can AHPRA help with approval of advertising?
Unfortunately, as the regulator, AHPRA does not audit and approve advertising. Any practitioner wanting specific legal advice about how to advertise a regulated health service or whether their advertising breaches National Law will need to consult with their indemnity insurer or legal advisor.
Who is responsible for the advertising: the practice owner or marketing consultant?
Third parties like marketing consultants, marketing agencies and advertising agencies may or may not be familiar with AHPRA’s guidelines and this can be problematic. No matter who is helping with your marketing, the practice owner is ultimately responsible for ensuring they are complying with AHPRA’s standards. This said, typically for minor oversights where the breach is considered low risk, AHPRA will write to advertisers to let them know when their advertising is non-compliant and provide resources to help them make appropriate amendments prior to taking disciplinary action.
Summary—3 tips for medical marketing compliance
- Take adequate steps to stay up-to-date with the current professional standards and laws around health advertising (and ensure your marketing consultant does too)
- Apply a conservative marketing approach—avoid bold statements and over-the-top claims that can’t be substantiated with evidence
- Think about the language used on your website and marketing materials and the impression it may convey to patients—is it accurate and non-misleading?
For further information, take a look through these resources:
Founder & SEO Strategist, Locally Connected
Maz Hancock is a marketing expert and founder of Locally Connected, an SEO strategy company that helps medical practices attract new patients. She lives on the Gold Coast with her husband Nathan and two young boys, Josh and Beau.