16 May 2018
A new tool to help practitioners and advertisers understand their obligations about using testimonials and reviews to advertise regulated health services is now available.
The testimonials tool is the latest in a series of resources and support materials developed by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and National Boards to help health practitioners, healthcare providers and other advertisers of regulated health services to comply with the National Law1.
The tool includes information and flow charts to help practitioners and advertisers understand why testimonials are not allowed and which reviews or feedback can be used in advertising.
Under section 133(1) of the National Law 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.
In the context of the National Law, advertising includes any public communication that promotes a regulated health service such as all forms of printed and electronic media and a testimonial includes recommendations or statements about the clinical aspects of a regulated health service.
AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said advertising had changed dramatically in the last decade.
‘Websites and social media have increasingly evolved into major marketing tools,’ he said.
‘The National Boards and AHPRA recognise that these sites provide opportunities for patient feedback but advertisers have a legal and professional responsibility to make sure they don’t use testimonials unlawfully in advertising.’
Using testimonials to advertise regulated health services is prohibited under the National Law because they are not usually a balanced source of information, and typically include a narrow selection of positive comments about patient experiences. Also the outcomes experienced by one patient do not necessarily reflect the likely outcomes for others, so a testimonial doesn’t tell the whole story.
Read more about why testimonials can’t be used in advertising.
‘Our law bans using testimonials to advertise but there are ways advertisers can use positive patient reviews and feedback,’ Mr Fletcher said.
‘Comments about friendly staff, plenty of parking or extended opening hours, for example, can be used to advertise a regulated health service but under the law advertising cannot include testimonials about clinical care.
‘I encourage practitioners and advertisers to use the testimonials tool to help them get it right. This means not encouraging patients to leave testimonials and removing testimonials published on websites or other online platforms which they control or administer.’
Advertising compliance strategy
An Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy for the National Scheme was launched in April 2017. The strategy has met a number of its targets since its launch including clear, concise and helpful correspondence about advertising complaints and new resources such as a summary of advertising obligations, frequently asked questions, tips on words to be wary about, examples of compliant and non-compliant advertising and a self-assessment tool.
The testimonials tool is available in the Advertising resources section on the AHPRA website.
1 The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law).