To avoid misleading the public, claims made in advertising about regulated health services must be supported by acceptable evidence. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) and National Boards’ approach to assessing evidence to support claims is consistent with the wider scientific and academic community.
In general, evidence is assessed as ‘acceptable’ where a body of evidence rates highly against the six factors highlighted below. These factors should be considered when assessing advertising claims about the benefits or effectiveness of a health service.
Note: Peer-review is a method used to screen the quality and reliability of research evidence. If your evidence is not peer-reviewed, it is unlikely that you have acceptable evidence to support your claim.
Is the research question stated in the study directly relevant to your advertising claim?
If the research question is not clearly stated, the evidence is at risk of being poor quality and unacceptable. Also, if the research question is not directly applicable to your advertising claim you cannot reasonably use the study as evidence.
Can the findings be applied to the patient population targeted by your advertising claim?
Note: It is important that the evidence can be directly translated to the patient group you are targeting in your advertising claim. If the participants in the study are different to your patient population, it may not be possible to generalise the research findings to your advertising claim.
Have the relevant sources of evidence been identified and considered equally? Is it possible that any important evidence was missed?
If you only select evidence that supports your advertising claim, your claim is at risk of reporting bias. This is not acceptable evidence selection.
Did more than one study show the same thing?
Note: If many well-conducted and independent studies support your claim, you can be more confident in the evidence. However, if there are some studies that contradict your claim, you need to acknowledge and carefully consider these before you can make your claim.
What study design did the researchers use?
Is the study design appropriate to answer the research question?
Consider aspects of the study design such as the methods used to analyse the outcome (do they measure what they should be measuring?), the timeline of the study, the testing protocol, what guidelines were followed and if they are suitable.
Note: Higher-level study designs use methods that reduce the risk of bias, chance and confounding factors from influencing the results. By using high-level evidence, you can have more confidence in the results of the study.
1Or another method to allocate participants to cases and controls that avoids biasing the results.
Was the selection criteria used appropriate?
Is there anything about how study participants were selected that could influence the results or how the results can be generalised to a larger population? Selection criteria that favour one population type over another can cause sampling bias.
Was the study conducted reliably?
Were the study methods described clearly and do they reflect common protocols/guidelines? Features such as randomisation, the use of control groups, blinding, and adherence to guidelines are important to consider and are specific to the chosen study design.
Is the sample size sufficient to support the research findings with confidence?
Were all sources of potential bias and confounding factors discussed?
Note: When considering the quality of your evidence it is important to consider all aspects of the research methodology that could contribute to the end result. For example, a randomised controlled trial, while considered a high-level study design, would be considered as unacceptable evidence if it used a very small sample size (e.g. 10 participants).
Was all the data reported on and discussed?
How confident are you in the results?
Is the evidence clinically significant?
Statistical significance is not the same as clinical significance. You need to assess whether the intervention is meaningful in your clinical setting.
Note: The research that you use as evidence should have statistical outcomes and clinical significance that is relevant to your claim. This is to ensure the study findings are meaningful in a real-world setting.