Does the thought of marketing your medical practice or healthcare service send shivers up your spine? Worried about breaching National Law or simply confused about what the deal with social media is?
This quick read is for you. We discuss what you must stay clear of and how to keep within AHPRA's guidelines.
What is the objective of AHPRA's guidelines for advertising health services?
AHPRA and the 14 National Boards that regulate registered health practitioners in Australia published the guidelines for regulated health services. These guidelines are based on section 39 of the National Law.
The target readership for the guide extends to anyone who promotes or plans to promote health services in Australia including:
- Registered Health Practitioners
- Non-registered health pratitioners
- Individuals and
- Bodies Corporate
So let's say you're a medical practice manager and the partners have asked you to manage the promotional aspects for the clinic, be it in print, radio, tv or indeed online. It would be wise to acquaint yourself with this document before writing a medical advertising or marketing plan.
The guidelines offer you information on your obligations and describe the types of advertising that is prohibited. It also instructs on what is considered factual advertising and explains what happens in case you are in breach of the advertising provisions under National Law.
What you need to know
According to section 133 of the National Law, a person or business must refrain from advertising a regulated health services in a way that:
- is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to be misleading or deceptive
- offers a gift or discount or other inducement to attract a person to use the service or the business unless the advertisement also states the terms and conditions of the offer
- 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.
How do I know if my advertising is misleading or deceptive?
If you ever find yourself wondering if the way you promote your services could be misleading, then it probably is. The key here is to be honest about what you do and offer.
Refrain from making any claims that can't be verified. Sell your services on their merit. Period.
Your reader is most likely a lay person who views the advertiser as an authority or subject matter expert on the advertised health services. Therefore, consider what impression your advertisement creates and how your intended audience will understand it.
A word on testimonials
Testimonials are not permitted in any way. For instance:
- you can't use testimonials on your website or social media pages/profiles (that includes both your business and personal pages). This includes "user generated" content such as reviews posted by patients on your website or social media pages.
- you are not permitted to use testimonials in any form (print, radio, television, website or social media) to promote a practitioner or a service.
Never encourage patients to leave testimonials be it on your website or your social media pages. Remember too that it is your responsibility to remove any testimonials that do get posted on there.
Although the National Law does not define testimonial, in this context, according to AHPRA, a testimonial includes recommendations or statements about the clinical aspects of a regulated health service.
What about testimonials on social media pages that I don't control?
This is a valid point. There are plenty of examples of patients or clients having the opportunity to post their views and recommendations online on sites and pages that are not under a regulated health practitioner's control. People can post on their own Facebook or Twitter account. Plus, there are review sites such as Whitecoat that invite the public's reviews or feedback. As these situations are outside of your control you are not responsible for having this content removed.
It makes absolute sense to abide by the guidelines. A breach of the national law constitutes a criminal act and court may impose penalties to individuals (upto $5000) or bodies corporate (up to $10,000).
Just remember these important points:
- Do not encourage of publish patient testimonials
- Refrain from making claims that can't be verified or create unreasonable expectations of treatment
- Do not encourage indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services
Medical marketers can access the AHPRA Guidelines here.