Frequently asked questions

Information about the advertising requirements

The advertising requirements apply to anyone (person or business) who advertises a regulated health service or that provides a regulated health service, including:

  • registered health practitioners
  • individuals who are not registered health practitioners, and
  • business, partnerships and corporate entities. 

See the Definitions in the Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service for the meaning of ‘advertiser’, ‘advertising’ and ‘regulated health service’.

The person or entity who controls part or all the advertising (i.e. who authorises the content) is the advertiser. 

An advertiser has control of the advertising if:

  • they publish or authorise content or direct someone to publish or draft content (including a third party, staff member or marketing agency) or
  • there is a mechanism for the advertiser to modify or remove content published by an unrelated publisher.

Advertisers are responsible for their advertising, so they need to check any content produced by others on their behalf.

 

Yes. The advertising requirements in the National Law cover the advertising of a regulated health service, and this extends to all services provided by the practitioner. 

For example, if a physiotherapist also has qualifications as a naturopath and advertises their services as a physiotherapist and a naturopath the advertising requirements apply to all of their advertising, including advertising solely about their naturopathic services.

The requirements about advertising a regulated health service are set out in the National Law and can be found at advertising and the law.

To help with understanding and applying the National Law, Ahpra and the National Boards have published other information which includes:

Registered health practitioners must also comply with other standards, codes (e.g. the Code of conduct) and guidelines published by the National Boards that describe the professional standards expected for each regulated profession, including when advertising.

Information about other legislation that may apply is also available. Although the National Boards do not enforce the legislation of other government departments or agencies, such as therapeutic goods legislation or drugs and poisons legislation, a breach of such legislation may form the basis for disciplinary action under the National Law. 

 
 

Advice about advertising 

No. Ahpra and the National Boards cannot give you advice or an opinion about advertising and cannot check or pre-approve your advertising to see if it complies with the National Law and the advertising guidelines. 

This is because as statutory regulators our role is to enforce the law not to provide legal advice to advertisers about how to advertise. 

If you need advice about whether your advertising complies with the National Law, you may wish to seek advice from your professional association, an independent legal adviser or indemnity insurer. 

Read the information on the Ahpra and National Board websites that explains the requirements for advertising a regulated health service, including the Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service.

To avoid being misleading and deceptive when advertising, advertisers should aim for the following: 

  • sell your professional services on their merits
  • be honest about what you do and say in relation to your business practices
  • be able to identify when material published falls under the definition of advertising
  • be able to regularly check and maintain compliance of all your advertising
  • look at the overall impression of your advertising.1 Consider who the audience is, what the advertisement is likely to say or mean to them, and how easy it is for your audience to navigate and understand your advertising. 

Seek advice. If you need advice about whether your advertising complies with the National Law, you should seek advice from your professional association, an independent legal adviser or indemnity insurer. 


1. See https://www.accc.gov.au/business/advertising-promoting-your-business/false-or-misleading-statements

If you have breached the advertising requirements you should correct the breach as soon as possible.

Whether a breach of the advertising requirements will affect your registration will depend on the risk to the public that the breach poses. The core role of the National Boards and Ahpra is to protect the public.

Our Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy sets out how low and medium risk matters are generally dealt with through an administrative process. These matters are closed once a practitioner corrects any advertising breaches. If a practitioner does not correct advertising breaches, and/or has repeated incidents of unlawful advertising the National Board may consider placing conditions on the practitioner’s registration preventing them from advertising.

High risk matters are prioritised and can be managed by an investigation, prosecution or disciplinary action depending on the specific case. These may affect a practitioner’s registration.

For more information about the management of breaches of the advertising requirements see Advertising complaints

 
 

Surgical warnings

Advertising may be false and misleading if it minimises, underplays or under-represents the risk or potential risk associated with a treatment or procedure.

For some high-risk procedures, it may be appropriate to include additional warnings or information about the risks. 

 

Use of protected titles

Doctor is not a protected title, but advertisers must be careful about how they use ‘Doctor’ or ‘Dr’ in their advertising because the public historically associate the term with medical practitioners. 

If the title ‘Dr’ is used in advertising and does not refer to a registered medical practitioner, then (regardless of whether a doctorate degree or PhD is held) it should be made clear which profession the practitioner is registered in, for example Dr Lee (osteopath).

Practitioners may advertise accurate and factual details about their qualifications or memberships that give information about a practitioner’s education and experience. It is also acceptable to refer to where the qualification was issued.

For example, it is acceptable to state ‘Master of Public Health’ or ‘10 years’ experience working at clinic XY’.

If practitioners are also listing their membership of a body or an association, such as a professional association, they should ensure that the use of abbreviations or post-nominal letters is not misleading by implying the practitioner has more qualifications, skill or experience than is the case. 

The National Law regulates the use of certain titles (protected titles). Misuse of a protected title is an offence under the National Law. Advertisers should be aware of the protected titles for the profession that they are advertising. Penalties can apply for a breach of National Law title protection provisions. In the case of an individual, there may be a financial penalty, imprisonment or both. In the case of a body corporate a financial penalty may apply.

A summary of the National Law in relation to title protection is set out in Appendix 2 of the advertising guidelines. This also provides lists or links to lists of:

  • protected titles
  • recognised specialities 
  • divisions, and 
  • endorsements.

Only a registered health practitioner who holds specialist registration in a recognised specialty may use the relevant specialist title in advertising. 

National Boards consider that any advertising using words or titles related to specialty is likely to mislead the public to believe the practitioner holds a type of specialist registration approved under the National Law. 

Using the term ‘specialist’ in advertising may not necessarily breach the title protection provisions in the National Law, but may be considered false, misleading or deceptive. 

This includes advertising that uses the words, or variations of the words or phrases ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, or ‘specialised’. Words such as ‘substantial experience in’ or ‘working primarily in’ are less likely to be misleading. 

The National Law restricts the use of protected titles, such as ‘medical practitioner’, ‘chiropractor’, ‘dentist’. 

This means that it is unlawful to claim to be registered in one of the 16 health professions listed in the National Law or claim to be qualified to practise as a health practitioner when you are not. This is often referred to as unlawfully ‘holding out’ to be a registered health practitioner. 

‘Holding out’ occurs when a person is led to believe that another person is registered in one of the health professions or specialities regulated under the National Law.

Holding out to be a registered health practitioner or holding out another person to be a registered health practitioner is a criminal offence that can be reported to Ahpra. For more information about criminal offences under the National Law see Reporting a criminal offence.

 

Advertising, social media, third-party websites 

Social media is part of everyday life and the advertising rules are not intended to stop people using social media, but all advertisers must be aware that if they are using social media to advertise, they need to meet the advertising requirements in the National Law. 

If you are using social media to advertise regulated health services you provide, then you need to remove any testimonial that is part of your advertising. This includes removing any testimonials a person may post on your social media page.

It also means not sharing or re-tweeting any comments made by a person about a clinical aspect of a regulated health service you provide on a third-party website. Sharing or re-tweeting the comment could be considered advertising as it may promote you and your service. 

For more information about social media see the Ahpra and National Boards’ guidance on social media.

 

The advertising requirements in the National Law only apply to the advertising of a regulated health service. 

Individuals (including practitioners) and organisations are not responsible for removing (or trying to have removed) testimonials published on a website or in social media over which they do not have control or that are not advertising a regulated health service.

You are responsible for the advertising you publish or that is in your control. The Boards do not expect you to monitor the internet or social media for things that may be written about you in forums you do not control and that are not advertising your regulated health service.

However, advertisers should take care if they choose to engage with testimonials on third party websites as this may be considered using a testimonial to advertise a regulated health service, which is prohibited. 

Advertisers must ensure that they do not use testimonials to advertise a regulated health service.

The advertising requirements of the National Law can apply to advertising appearing on third party websites such as booking sites or discussion forums.

Responsibility for the advertising on third-party websites, and for complying with the prohibition on the use of testimonials for example, will depend on:

  • who has control over the website, and
  • if the website is used to advertise a regulated health service.

An advertiser is considered to have control of the advertising if:

  • they publish or authorise content to be published (including by a third party)
  • the advertiser can modify or remove content published by an unrelated publisher (e.g. the advertiser can remove a testimonial left by a patient on their social media page, either by deleting the review or disabling the review function).

Practitioners are not responsible for testimonials published on a third-party website that they do not control. However, advertisers should take care if they choose to engage with testimonials on third party websites as this may be considered using a testimonial to advertise a regulated health service, which is prohibited. 

 
 

Testimonials

In the context of the National Law, testimonials are recommendations or positive statements about the clinical aspects of a regulated health service used in advertising. 

To decide if statements or comments are testimonials consider:

  • Are the comments about a regulated health service?
  • Are they used in advertising? 
  • Do they refer to a clinical aspect (e.g. symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, outcomes)?

Comments that do not refer to clinical aspects of a regulated health service (e.g. customer service) are not considered testimonials. 

The prohibition on using a testimonial to advertise a regulated health service is set out in the National Law and explained in more detail in the Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service.

There is no ban on the use of marketing products in the National Law or Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service. Advertisers are allowed to use these types of products to advertise but need to ensure that the content of the advertising complies with the National Law.

Information sharing or rating websites may give awards on the basis of customer reviews. The National Law does not apply to awards published on third party websites which do not involve advertising a regulated health service. 

Publishing an award symbol or rating on a website advertising a regulated health service is not likely to breach the ban on using testimonials in the National Law, unless it involves republishing the testimonials on which the award or rating is based.

A symbol, rating or title of an award from an information sharing or rating website does not fit the meaning of a testimonial.

A birth story is not considered a testimonial if it is not used to advertise a regulated health service. For example if it is published on a patient’s social media page or patient review site it unlikely to be a considered a testimonial. 

A birth story would likely to be considered to be a testimonial if it is used to advertise a regulated health service. for example, if it is shared on a practitioner or clinic’s website or social media pages or if a practitioner or clinic shares, republishes or promotes the story this is likely to be considered using a testimonial to advertise a regulated health service which is prohibited.

The key issue is whether the fundraising involves advertising a regulated health service. This may vary in individual cases. 

Fundraising and advertising have different purposes, but there is a potential overlap. Advertising involves promoting a service to attract a person to the service. Fundraising involves seeking donations or financial support for a charity, cause or other enterprise. If the overriding purpose of fundraising is to raise money, then the fundraising material is unlikely to be considered ‘advertising’ under the National Law. This means that the advertising provisions of the National Law, including the ban on using testimonials, is unlikely to apply.

There is a high risk that editing a review will result in the edited reviews being false, misleading or deceptive. For example:

  • editing a negative review to make it positive falsely presents the feedback
  • editing a review with negative and positive comments so that only positive comments are published falsely implies the reviewer only had positive comments
  • editing a review that includes comments about both clinical and non-clinical aspects of a regulated health service, so it only contains non-clinical comments, distorts the feedback.

Only publishing complete and unedited reviews that are not testimonials will help to avoid breaching the National Law’s ban on using testimonials

 

Offer a gift, discount or inducement

There are no restrictions on offering discounts to specific groups of patients. Advertising offering a gift, discount or other inducement must clearly and accurately include the terms and conditions of the offer. 

Offering discounts on bulk purchases is not prohibited however there is a risk it can encourage the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services. Advertising must not encourage consumers to have treatment that is not necessary, clinically indicated or provides no therapeutic benefit, or encourage more treatment than is necessary, e.g. special offers for four treatments, when only two treatments would be effective may encourage a person to purchase more services than they require to take advantage of the discount. This may be unlawful.

 
 
 
Page reviewed 14/12/2020