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Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency
 

What health practitioners and healthcare providers need to know about advertising

To protect consumers, the National Law includes provisions about advertising regulated health services.

If you are advertising a regulated health service, your advertising must not:

  • be false, misleading or deceptive, or likely to be misleading or deceptive 
  • offer a gift, discount or other inducement, unless the terms and conditions of the offer are also stated 
  • use testimonials or purported testimonials about the service or business 
  • create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, or 
  • directly or indirectly encourage the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services.

You can find out more about what the National Law says on the legislation and guidelines page.

AHPRA and National Boards have developed common advertising guidelines and further information for health practitioners that offer details and examples of acceptable advertising. These are available on National Board websites.

 

 Key things you need to know

You are responsible for your advertising and must be able to substantiate any claim you make that your treatments benefit patients.

If you do not understand your advertising obligations, then please refer to the information below and other explanatory information published by AHPRA and National Boards. You may also wish to seek appropriate advice, for example, from your legal advisor.

AHPRA is responsible for prosecuting advertising breaches under the National Law. As part of this process, we will use objective criteria to assess whether there is acceptable evidence to substantiate therapeutic claims in advertising. We will use appropriate experts to help us evaluate evidence where needed.

If you do not understand whether the claims you have made can be substantiated based on acceptable evidence, then remove them from your advertising. These are serious matters that can have serious consequences for your professional standing.

Remember if in doubt about a claim; leave it out of your advertising.

Tips for practitioners

✔ Think about your advertising from a patient’s point of view:

  • Could it be misleading? 
  • Does it tell them everything they need to know? 
  • Could it create an unrealistic expectation of what your treatment might do for them?

✔ If the evidence is too weak to support advertising of a therapeutic claim, leave it out.

 

✔ Including a lot of complicated information can be confusing for patients. Remember, you can explain more about the treatment in a consultation.

 

✔ Be careful about publishing content copied from somewhere else - make sure you check it first. You are responsible for what you publish, even if someone else wrote it. 

Position statements from National Boards

Some National boards have decided to publish position statements about specific issues where they are concerned and wish to provide more guidance to the profession.

National Board Position statement Date
Chiropractic Board of Australia Position statement on advertising 7 March 2016
Chiropractic Board of Australia Position statement on paediatric care 14 October 2015
Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia Position statement on anti-vaccination advice 20 October 2016

Words to be wary about

Some words have more potential to mislead or deceive when used in advertising, so it is important you consider their use very carefully.

1. The word ‘cure’.

The unqualified use of the word ‘cure’ could breach section 133 unless there is acceptable evidence that a health service cures a condition. It is often not possible to establish a causal connection between providing a health service and subsequent patient improvement. This is because not all improvement in a condition can necessarily be attributed to treatment, there are many intervening factors, relapses frequently occur and the response to treatment varies considerably from individual to individual. Wording about the potential to reduce the severity of symptoms is often safer, such as ‘I cannot cure arthritis but I may be able to reduce the severity of the symptoms’.

2. The words ‘can help/ improve/treat’ or ‘effectively treats’.

When there is acceptable evidence that a health service can help certain conditions, it may be reasonable to state something like ‘x treatment or x approach can help/improve these conditions’. When there is limited or inconclusive evidence that treatment can help certain conditions, it is unacceptable to claim or suggest that it can help/ improve or treat those conditions. In these cases, it can still be misleading to state that treatment or a particular approach may/might help or improve certain conditions unless the advertisement is clear about the limited or inconclusive evidence.

3. The word ‘safe’.

When a treatment is generally considered safe based on acceptable evidence, it may be reasonable to use wording like ‘x treatment is generally considered to be safe but occasionally may be associated with possible adverse reactions in individual cases’. It is potentially misleading to state that treatment or a particular approach is safe without also acknowledging that all forms of treatment have the potential for adverse reactions.

4. The word ‘effective’.

When there is acceptable evidence that a health service can help certain conditions, it is acceptable to state something like ‘X treatment or approach has been shown to be effective for the treatment of these conditions’. When there is limited or inconclusive evidence that treatment has been shown to be effective in the management of certain conditions, it may be reasonable to state something like ‘there is mixed and/or inconclusive evidence about whether X treatment or approach may be effective in the management of certain conditions’.

Related information

Inappropriate claims of benefit

Advertisers of regulated health services, both individuals and organisations, must not advertise health benefits of their services when there is not acceptable evidence that these benefits can be achieved. Find out more about inappropriate claims of benefit.

Examples of unacceptable statements in advertising

Examples of unacceptable advertising may be helpful for advertisers reviewing existing advertising, or developing new content. Find out more about examples of unacceptable statements in advertising.

Advertising cases heard by tribunals and courts

A number of registered health practitioners have been the subject of tribunal findings about breaches of advertising requirements. Find out more about unlawful advertising.

 
 
 
Page reviewed 1/02/2017