Medical practitioners must adhere to the National Law in
advertising regardless of whether they are advertising in print,
via a website, via radio, television or via a social media account.
Advertising must not:
- make misleading claims
- offer an inducement such as a gift or discount (unless the
relevant terms and conditions are also included)
- use testimonials
- create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment
- encourage the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of a regulated
health service - that is, "a service provided by, or usually
provided by, a health practitioner".
The Medical Board can impose penalties for breaching the
National Law's advertising requirements, including restrictions on
an individual's registration and their ability to practise. Medical
practitioners may also be liable for a financial penalty - $5,000
for an individual or $10,000 for a corporation. The ACCC
(Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) and the TGA
(Therapeutic Goods Administration) also have responsibilities for
the laws regarding advertising of health services.
Medical practitioners who delegate or outsource the
responsibility for developing website or social media content
remain responsible for ensuring that the content is accurate and
complies with National Law. Practitioners are required to review
the content of any advertising of their services and to take
reasonable steps to prevent non-compliance.
For instance, testimonials that are posted on practitioner
websites or social media accounts (e.g. a practice Facebook page)
must be removed. A practitioner is responsible for comments that
are posted on their social networking account once alerted to the
comment. Content should therefore be reviewed regularly and
policies put in place regarding:
- who determines what is appropriate content
- who is responsible for reviewing content, and how often
- responding to complaints
- responding to social media enquiries and messages.
The Medical Board has specific guidelines on the use of graphic
or visual representations in health service advertising, which
includes photographs (of patients, clients or models), diagrams,
cartoons and other images. Photographs that are used to advertise
"… must only depict a real patient or client who has
actually undergone the advertised treatment by the advertised
doctor or practice, and who has provided written consent for
publication of the photograph in the circumstances in which the
photograph is used". Medical Board Guidelines for advertising
of regulated health services (Paragraph 6.1)
Before and after photographs have restrictions placed on them to
ensure that, "the public can trust the truthfulness of the
images". This means that the images must be taken under
consistent conditions, that it must be stated if the photographs
have been altered and that it must be confirmed that no other
change has occurred (for example, if results have been enhanced by
diet and exercise).
Stock photographs and images of models are not prohibited,
providing that the requirements of s.133 of the National Law and
the Medical Board guidelines are met, but the Medical Board states
that, "practitioners should exercise caution due to the
potential to mislead customers". (Paragraph 6.1)
Where surgical or invasive procedures are advertised directly to
the public, a warning with text along the following lines is
required: "Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.
Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an
appropriately qualified health practitioner". (Paragraph
Surgical and invasive procedures are defined in the Guidelines
and include procedures that have significant risk, require
admission to a day procedure centre or hospital or are elective
procedures requiring more than local anaesthetic or sedation. If
you are unsure about the applicability of the guidelines in your
individual circumstances, you can contact AHPRA for advice.
Advertising of price information
This can be a difficult area, particularly for proceduralists.
Any information that you provide must be clear and not misleading.
Providing price information about the cost of consultations and the
relevant Medicare rebates may be straightforward. On the other
hand, providing accurate pricing via a website for procedures and
inpatient services may be complex due to the variables involved for
each individual patient.
Time-limited and special offers are not permitted. Providing
compensation to a journalist or to a print, television or radio
outlet for publicity is also prohibited, unless the fact of
compensation is clearly expressed. The use of gifts and discounts
in advertising is also inappropriate.