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ahpra Marketing & Advertising Guidelines

This guide is specifically for Australian-based health professionals that are registered with AHPRA. To get on our waiting list for a FREE audit to check if your website & social content is in breach of your board's standards, click here.

This Guide Tells You

  • If these guidelines apply to your profession

  • Summary - the National Law on health advertising

  • Summary - your AHPRA guidelines on advertising

  • Links and downloads to the legislation 

  • Our FREE PDF checklist to help you check your current compliance

You're here because you know that there are guidelines around how you can and can't advertise yourself and your services online and in print. But you may not be sure what these guidelines are - or if you're currently breaking any laws. And you definitely don't want a $30k fine like this Podiatrist. 

 

So here's the breakdown of what you need to know - with our free PDF checklist for you to download at the end so you can check if you're at risk of a hefty fine, too.

Which professions does the following law apply to?

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practice

  • Chinese Medicine Practice

  • Chiropractics

  • Dentistry

  • Medicine

  • Medical Radiation Practice

  • Nursing and Midwifery

  • Occupational Therapy

  • Optometry

  • Osteopathy

  • Pharmacy

  • Physiotherapy

  • Podiatry

  • Psychology

 

The National Law on advertising in healthcare

The Law:​ Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act 2009

In Australia, this law governs the above 14 regulated healthcare professions in all areas, not just marketing. This includes:

 

  • Establishing professional requirements

  • Governing how health professionals are registered

  • Regulating how investigations and hearings about breaches are conducted

  • And much, much more...

So when it comes to advertising, the National Law, National Agency and National Boards are designed to ensure that the best interests of the public are served by health professionals. This includes regulating the way that healthcare services and products can be advertised.

  • The National Law does not distinguish between different types of advertising media, it applies to traditional advertising as well as social media accounts and websites you control.

  • The National Boards publish guidelines for advertising regulated health services to assist everyone to meet their legal obligations under the National Law.

  • Interestingly, the advertising provisions of the National Law apply to everyone, not just members of the regulated health professions.

Heads up - In addition to the requirements of the National Law, other Australian legislation may apply to your clinic's advertising. This includes:

          - The TGA recognises that advertising of therapeutic goods requires a high ethical standard as consumers                           cannot verify claims easily and may have difficulty determining if a product is appropriate for them

          - The TGA requires advertising to be truthful, balanced and not misleading

          - It requires advertisers to give adequate information on the risks and cautions around a product and                                     recommendations to seek health professional advice where appropriate.

The National Law (and hence AHPRA) Advertising Rules

FYI - Part 7 Division 11 Subdivision 4 Advertising - 133 Advertising

Here is the area where many health professionals and business owners have made mistakes and received a warning - or a fine:​

1. A person must not advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that 

  • is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to be misleading or deceptive; or

  • offers a gift, discount or other inducements to attract a person to use the service or the business, unless the advertisement also states the terms and conditions of the offer; or

  • uses testimonials or purported testimonials about the service or business; or

  • creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment; or

  • directly or indirectly encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services.

 

Maximum penalty—

  • in the case of an individual—$5,000; or

  • in the case of a body corporate—$10,000.

 

     2. A person does not commit an offence against subsection (1) merely because the person, as part of the person’s business, prints or publishes an advertisement for another person.

     3. In proceedings for an offence against this section, a court may have regard to a guideline approved by a National Board about the advertising of regulated health services.

     4. In this section— regulated health service means a service provided by, or usually provided by, a health practitioner.

 

ahpra  Advertising  Recommendations

 

AHPRA makes many recommendations on advertising, regardless of whether it's online on your website, through social media, or in print. These sections include:

 

The use of factual information in advertising

The information you use in advertisements must be factual (as is outlined below) as it may help health consumers make informed choices. When you publish information that may be viewed as misleading, incomplete or not completely factual, you're putting your clinic and your reputation at risk.

 

Information commonly included in health services advertising:

 

Office details 

  • contact details

  • office hours, availability of after-hours services

  • accessibility (such as wheelchair access)

  • languages spoken (this does not affect other guidance provided by the National Board about use of qualified interpreters where appropriate)

  • emergency contact details

 

Fees 

  • a statement about fees charged (price information must be exact), bulk-billing arrangements, or other insurance plan arrangements and instalment fee plans regularly accepted

 

Qualifications and experience

  • a statement of the names of schools and training programs from which the practitioner has graduated and the qualifications received, subject to the advice in section 7.2 of these guidelines on the advertising of qualifications and memberships

  • whether the practitioners have specialist registration or endorsement under the National Law and their area of speciality or endorsement

  • what positions, currently or in the past, the practitioners have held, together with relevant dates

  • whether the practitioner is accredited by a public board or agency, including any affiliations with hospitals or clinics

  • whether the practice is accredited and by whom

    • For any surgical and/or invasive procedures, the appropriate warning statement in a clearly visible position

    • Photos or drawings of the practitioner or their office

    • Any statement providing public health information that helps consumers to improve their health (this information should be based on reputable evidence wherever possible)

 

Summary - factual information in advertising

When looking over your content, you should be asking yourself whether it's verifiable, whether it's specific and unambiguous, and whether it also meets the requirements of National Law. If there is anything that is left open to interpretation, like your schedule of fees (or even the exact cost of a service after a discount), then clear it up.

Prohibited advertising under the National Law

1. Misleading or deceptive advertising

Section 133 of the National Law states:

 

"A person must not advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that – is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to be misleading or deceptive"

 

A common meaning of ‘mislead or deceive’ is to ‘lead into error’. Those who are misled are almost by definition deceived as well. Misleading someone may include lying to them, leading them to a wrong conclusion, creating a false impression, leaving out (or hiding) important information, and/or making false or inaccurate claims.

 

Examples of advertising that may be false or misleading include those that:

 

  • mislead, either directly, or by implication, use of emphasis, comparison, contrast or omission

  • only provide partial information which could be misleading

  • use phrases like ‘as low as’ or ‘lowest prices’, or similar words or phrases when advertising fees for services, prices for products or price information in a way which is misleading or deceptive

  • imply that regulated health services can be a substitute for public health vaccination or immunisation

  • use words, letters or titles that may mislead or deceive a health consumer into thinking that the provider of a regulated health service is more qualified or more competent than a holder of the same registration category (e.g. ‘specialising in XX’ when there is no specialist registration category for that profession)

  • advertise the health benefits of a regulated health service when there is no proof that such benefits can be attained

  • compare different regulated health professions or practitioners, in the same profession or across professions, in a way that may mislead or deceive

 

Using comparative advertising often risks misleading and/or deceiving the public because it can be difficult to include complete information when comparing one health service with another.

 

The ACCC has provided tips on how to avoid being misleading and deceptive when advertising. They may be useful for advertisers considering the requirements of the National Law:

 

  • Sell your professional services on their merits

  • Be honest about what you say and do commercially

  • Look at the overall impression of your advertisement. Ask yourself who the audience is and what the advertisement is likely to say or mean to them

  • Remember, at a minimum, that it is the viewpoint of a layperson with little or no knowledge of the professional service you are selling that should be considered


 

2. Gifts and discounts

Section 133 of the National Law states:

 

"A person must not advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that – offers a gift, discount or other inducements to attract a person to use the service or the business, unless the advertisement also states the terms and conditions of the offer."

 

The use of unclear, unreadable or misleading terms and conditions attached to gifts, discounts and other inducements would not meet this requirement.

 

Consumers generally consider the word ‘free’ to mean absolutely free. When the costs of a ‘free offer’ are recouped through a price rise elsewhere, the offer is not actually free. An example is an advertisement which offers ‘make one consultation appointment, get one free’, but raises the price of the first consultation to largely cover the cost of the second (free) appointment. This type of advertising could also be misleading or deceptive.

 

The terms and conditions should be in plain English, readily understandable, accurate and not in themselves misleading about the conditions and limitations of the offered service.

 

Advertising may contravene the National Law when it:

 

  • contains price information that is inexact

  • contains price information that does not specify any terms and conditions or variables to an advertised price, or that could be considered misleading or deceptive

  • states an instalment amount without stating the total cost (which is a condition of the offer)

  • does not state the terms and conditions of offers of gifts, discounts or other inducements.

 

 

3. Testimonials

Section 133 of the National Law states:

 

"A person must not advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that – uses testimonials or purported testimonials about the service or business"

 

The National Law does not define ‘testimonial’, so the word has its ordinary meaning of a positive statement about a person or thing. In the context of the National Law, a testimonial includes recommendations or statements about the clinical aspects of a regulated health service.

 

The National Law ban on using testimonials means it is not acceptable to use testimonials in your own advertising, such as on your Facebook page, in a print, radio or television advertisement, or on your website. This means that:

 

  • you cannot use or quote testimonials on a site or in social media that is advertising a regulated health service, including patients posting comments about a practitioner on the practitioner’s business website, and 

  • you cannot use testimonials in advertising a regulated health service to promote a practitioner or service

Health practitioners should therefore not encourage patients to leave testimonials on websites that the health practitioners control that advertises their own regulated health services, and should remove any testimonials that are posted there.

 

The National Law does not directly regulate social media. However, testimonials used in advertising a regulated health service through social media may contravene the National Law.

 

There are many opportunities for consumers or patients to express their views online that are not affected by the National Law restriction on testimonials in advertising. Patients can share views through their personal social media such as Facebook or Twitter accounts or on information sharing websites or other online mechanisms that do not involve using testimonials in advertising a regulated health service.

 

For example, consumer and patient information sharing websites that invite public feedback/reviews about the experience of a regulated health practitioner, business and/or service are generally intended to help consumers make more informed decisions and are not considered advertising of a regulated health service.

 

To clarify, practitioners are not responsible for removing (or trying to have removed) unsolicited testimonials published on a website or in social media over which they do not have control.

 

4. The unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment

Section 133 of the National Law states:

 

"A person must not advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that – creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment"

 

This can arise when advertisers take advantage of the vulnerability of health consumers in their search for a cure or remedy. The claims of beneficial treatment can range from unsubstantiated scientific claims, through to miracle cures. Advertising of treatments or services must not encourage or promote unreasonable expectations.

 

For example, advertising may contravene the National Law when it:

 

  • creates an unreasonable expectation (such as by exaggerating or by providing incomplete or biased information) of recovery time after providing a regulated health service

  • fails to disclose the health risks associated with a treatment

  • omits the necessary warning statement about a surgical or invasive procedure

  • contains any inappropriate or unnecessary information or material that is likely to make a person believe their health or wellbeing may suffer from not taking or undertaking the health service

  • contains a claim, statement or implication that is likely to create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment by:

    • either expressly, or by omission, indicating that the treatment is infallible, unfailing, magical, miraculous or a certain, guaranteed or sure cure; or

    • claiming that the practitioner has an exclusive or unique skill or remedy, or that a product is ‘exclusive’ or contains a ‘secret ingredient’ that will benefit the patient.

 

 

5. Encouraging indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services

Section 133 of the National Law states:

 

"A person must not advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that – directly or indirectly encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services"

 

The unnecessary and indiscriminate use of regulated health services is not in the public interest and may lead to the public purchasing or undergoing a regulated health service that they do not need or require.

 

Advertising may contravene the National Law when it:

 

  • encourages a person to improve their physical appearance together with the use of phrases such as ‘don’t delay’, ‘achieve the look you want’ and ‘looking better and feeling more confident’

  • provides a patient or client with an unsolicited appointment time

  • uses prizes, bonuses, bulk purchases, bulk discounts or other endorsements to encourage the unnecessary consumption of health services that are unrelated to clinical need or therapeutic benefit

  • uses promotional techniques that are likely to encourage consumers to use health services regardless of clinical need or therapeutic benefit, such as offers or discounts, online/internet deals, vouchers, and/or coupons, and/or

  • makes use of time-limited offers which influence a consumer to make decisions under the pressure of time and money rather than about their health care needs. An offer is considered time-limited if it is made to purchase for a limited or specific period of time, or available for use within a limited period of time or by a specific date, without an option to exit the arrangement.

 

Further information about specific types of advertising, click here.

 
 
 
 
 

diving deeper

The following sections discuss some aspects of advertising in more detail, to provide further guidance to practitioners.

Social media

Social media includes work related and personal accounts on social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. A person is responsible for content on their social networking accounts even if they were not responsible for the initial posting of the information or testimonial. This is because a person responsible for a social networking account accepts responsibility for any comment published on it, once alerted to the comment.

 

Practitioners advertising through social media should carefully review content regularly to make sure that all material complies with their obligations under the National Law. These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Social media policy, published on National Boards’ websites.

Advertising qualifications or memberships

Advertising qualifications or memberships may be a useful way to provide the public with information about the experience and expertise of health practitioners. However, it may be misleading or deceptive if the advertisement implies that the practitioner has more skill or experience than is the case.

Including professional qualifications in an advertisement that also promotes the use or supply of therapeutic goods may be interpreted as a professional endorsement. Professional endorsements of therapeutic goods are prohibited under the Therapeutic goods advertising code 2018.

Patients or clients are best protected when advertisers promote practitioners’ qualifications that are:

  • approved for the purposes of registration, including specialist registration and endorsement of registration

  • conferred by approved higher education providers, or

  • conferred by an education provider that has been accredited by an accreditation authority

A list of accreditation authorities and approved qualifications for each health profession is available on the relevant National Board’s website.

 

Helpful questions to consider

Practitioners who are considering the use of titles, words or letters to identify and distinguish themselves in advertising, other than those professional titles protected under the National Law for their profession, are encouraged to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Is it appropriate for me to use this title, qualification, membership, words or letters in advertising material?

  • Am I skilled in the services I am advertising?

  • If I display or promote my qualifications in advertising materials, is it easy to understand?

  • Is there any risk of people being misled or deceived by the words, letters or titles that I use?

 

Is the basis for my use of title, qualification, membership, or other words or letters:
  – relevant to my practice?
  – current?
  – verifiable?
  – credible?

Use of titles in advertising

The National Law regulates the use of certain titles. Misuse of a protected title is an offence under the National Law. The misuse of titles in advertising may also contravene other sections of the National Law related to title protection. 

Advertisers should be aware of the protected titles for the profession that they are advertising. There is no provision in the National Law that prohibits a practitioner from using titles such as ‘doctor’ but there is potential to mislead or deceive if the title is not applied clearly. If practitioners choose to adopt the title ‘Dr’ in their advertising and they are not registered medical practitioners, then (whether or not they hold a Doctorate degree or PhD) they should clearly state their profession.

Advertisers should avoid developing abbreviations of protected titles as these may mislead the public (e.g. ‘pod’, ‘psych’, ‘RN’). It may also be misleading to use symbols, words or descriptions associated with titles.

 

Clarity may be achieved by including a reference to their health profession whenever the title is used, such as:

  • Dr Isobel Jones (Dentist), and

  • Dr Walter Lin (Chiropractor)

Advertising specialities and endorsements

The National Law allows for and protects specialist titles and endorsements (an endorsement on a practitioner’s registration indicates that the practitioner is qualified to engage, for example, in a wider scope of practice than other registrants).

 

A registered health practitioner who does not hold specialist registration may not use the title ‘specialist’, or through advertising or other means, present themselves to the public as holding specialist registration in a health profession.

 

The National Law prohibits claims of:

  • holding a type of registration, including specialist registration, or endorsement of registration not held, and/or

  • being qualified to hold an endorsement they do not hold

 

While the National Law protects specific titles, use of some words (such as ‘specialises in’ ) may be misleading or deceptive as patients or clients can interpret the advertisements as implying that the practitioner is more skilled or has greater experience than is the case.

These words should be used with caution and need to be supported by fact. Words such as ‘substantial experience in’ or ‘working primarily in’ are less likely to be misunderstood as a reference to endorsement or specialist registration.

A registered health practitioner who does not hold an endorsement may not, through advertising or other means, present themselves to the public as holding such an endorsement (such as using professional titles that are associated with an approved area of practice endorsement).

A list of health professions with approved specialities, endorsements, including endorsements for scheduled medicines and area of practice endorsements, is available on the websites of the relevant National Board. These websites also explain the titles that a registered health practitioner with an area of practice endorsement may use.

Advertising price information

Any information about the price of procedures in advertising of regulated health services must be clear and not misleading.

 

It is often difficult to provide an accurate price for a regulated health service in an advertisement due to the individual nature of services and the number of variables involved in the treatment. If fees and price information are to be advertised, then price information should be clear, with all costs involved and out of pocket expenses clearly identifiable, and any conditions or other variables to an advertised price or fee disclosed. This is to avoid misleading consumers and ensure they are fully informed and able to provide their full consent about health services.

Use of phrases like ‘as low as’ or ‘lowest prices’, or similar words, phrases or questions when advertising fees for services, prices for products or price information, or stating an instalment amount without stating the total cost may be misleading and could contravene the advertising provisions of the National Law.

Use of scientific information in advertising

To not mislead or create false impressions, caution should be taken when using scientific information in advertising.

When a practitioner chooses to include scientific information in advertising, the information should:

  • be presented in a manner that is accurate, balanced and not misleading

  • use terminology that is understood readily by the target audience

  • identify clearly the relevant researchers, sponsors and the academic publication in which the results appear, and

  • be from a reputable (e.g. peer-reviewed), and verifiable source.

Advertising therapeutic goods

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is responsible for regulating therapeutic goods including medicines, medical devices, biologicals, blood and blood products.

If the advertising only comprises pricing for prescription-only (Schedule 4 and 8) and certain pharmacist-only (Schedule 3 of the Poisons Standard) medicines, then the advertisement must comply with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, Therapeutic Goods Regulations 1990, the Therapeutic goods advertising code 2018 and the Price information code of practice.

 

A list of practitioners permitted to advertise price information for certain Schedule 3, Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 medicines is included in the Price information code of practice, available via the TGA website.

If the advertising promotes one or more therapeutic goods (under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989), then the advertising must comply with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, Therapeutic Goods Regulations 1990, the Therapeutic goods advertising code 2018 and, where relevant, the Price information code of practice.

 

Advertisers should note the definition of ‘advertisement’ in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989.

Use of graphic or visual representations

If a practitioner chooses to use any graphic or visual representations in health service advertising (including photographs of patients, clients or models; diagram; cartoons; or other images), they should be used with caution.

 

If photographs of people are used in advertising of treatments, use of a real patient or client who has actually undergone the advertised treatment by the advertising practitioner or practice, and who has provided written consent for publication of the photograph in the circumstances in which the photograph is used, is less likely to be misleading.

Practitioners should not use photographs of actual patients or clients if the patient or client is vulnerable as a result of the type of treatment involved, or if their ability to consent may be otherwise impaired.

Use of ‘before and after’ photographs in advertising of regulated health services has a significant potential to be misleading or deceptive, to convey to a member of the public inappropriately high expectations of a successful outcome and to encourage the unnecessary use of health services.

Use of ‘before and after’ photographs is less likely to be misleading if:

  • the images are as similar as possible in content, camera angle, background, framing and exposure

  • there is consistency in posture, clothing and make-up

  • there is consistency in lighting and contrast

  • there is an explanation if photographs have been altered in any way, and

  • the referenced procedure is the only visible change that has occurred for the person being photographed.

 

The guidelines do not limit the use of stock photographs and models other than in relation to the advertising of particular treatments, provided that the provisions of the National Law and these guidelines are otherwise met. However, practitioners should exercise caution due to the potential to mislead consumers.

Use of warning statements for surgical or invasive procedures

Where a surgical (or ‘an invasive’) procedure is advertised directly to the public, the advertisement should include a clearly visible warning, with text along the following lines:

‘Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.’

If the text of any warning label is in smaller print than the main text or placed in an obscure position of an advertisement, the advertisement may contravene the National Law.

I'm here for the PDF checklist

That's good - because we've created it just for you. There are actually TWO free goodies that we're offering. The first is the checklist, and the second is an expression of interest to receive a complimentary  AHPRA compliance check on a piece of advertising or marketing (including pages on a website). We only offer these three times per year to a limited number of clinics but collect expressions of interest throughout the year. Just select what you'd like below and the checklist will hit your inbox shortly.