Advertisers must make sure their advertising is accurate and lawful as the public may rely on information provided in advertising when making important decisions about their healthcare.
The Medical Board of Australia has also published the Guidelines for registered medical practitioners who advertise cosmetic surgery to explain the additional requirements for medical practitioners advertising cosmetic surgery.
The requirements apply to any person or business that advertises a regulated health.
Advertisers are responsible for their advertising, so they need to check any content produced by others on their behalf and ensure it is compliant.
‘Advertising’ includes but is not limited to all forms of verbal, printed or electronic public communication that promotes a regulated health service provider to attract a person to the provider (practitioner or business). Refer to the advertising guidelines for a full definition of what is and what is not considered advertising under the National Law.
The advertising requirements are summarised below, these do not replace the advertising guidelines which should be read in full.
Information in advertising should not be false, misleading or deceptive. Information should be:
Any claims made in advertising must be supported by acceptable evidence or they may be considered false, misleading or deceptive.
If advertising includes a list of health conditions and makes claims to effectively ‘treat’ or ‘help’ those conditions, the advertising should also make it clear how the treatment helps each condition listed. This includes that it is supported by acceptable evidence, or the claims may be considered false, misleading or deceptive advertising.
Advertising should provide accurate information about risks or potential risks with a treatment or procedure. Failure to do so has the potential to mislead or deceive the public and to create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment.
Making comparisons in advertising between health outcomes, professions, practitioners or prices can be misleading and deceptive if clear and accurate information supported by acceptable evidence is not provided.
Information about titles, and claims about registration, competence and qualifications of practitioners must be correct or the advertising may be considered false, misleading or deceptive.
A practitioner may only use a protected title if they are registered in that profession. A list of protected titles can be found in the advertising guidelines.
While ‘doctor’ or ‘Dr’ is not a protected title, if the title is used in advertising it should state the practitioner’s profession (if they are not a medical practitioner). For example, Dr Jones (dentist) or Dr Lee (osteopath).
Only a practitioner who holds specialist registration in a recognised speciality may use a specialist title in advertising. Practitioners who do not hold specialist registration should be wary of using words or phrases such as ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, ‘specialised’ as it is likely to mislead the public to believe the practitioner holds a type of specialist registration approved under the National Law.
In 2023 the National Law was amended and a new section 115A was introduced that affects the use of the title ‘surgeon’ in the medical profession.1 The only medical practitioners who can call themselves 'surgeon' are those holding specialist registration in surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, or opthamology. The advertising guidelines will be updated to include the changes when the advertising guidelines are next reviewed.
1.The amendment is expected to take effect in NSW, SA and WA following state legislative processes.
Advertising that includes information about pricing should be clear, easily understood, accurate, honest and include the total price – not just initial costs or prices of certain consultations.
Advertising that uses bonuses, discounts, gifts, or prizes may directly or indirectly encourage the unnecessary use of regulated health services. If the value of the prize greatly outweighs the cost and risk of the treatment to the person, it may encourage them to use a regulated health service regardless of clinical need or therapeutic benefit.
Advertising offering a gift, discount or other inducement must:
Advertising must not use testimonials or purported testimonials, that is, recommendations or positive statements about the clinical aspects of a regulated health service. ‘Clinical aspects’ refers to statements about symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, outcome.
Not all reviews or positive comments made about a regulated health service are considered testimonials. For example, comments about customer service or communication style that do not include a reference to clinical aspects are not considered testimonials for the purposes of the National Law.
Advertisers are responsible for removing testimonials from the advertising they control, including social media platforms advertising their regulated health service (e.g. clinic Facebook page).
Advertising that uses patient stories, patient journeys, or anecdotes from the advertiser about the personal benefit or outcome obtained from treatment may create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment as the outcomes experienced by one person do not necessarily reflect the outcomes that other people may experience.
Care should be taken when using graphic or visual representations in advertising of regulated health services to ensure they do not create an unreasonable expectation of benefit, as the outcomes experienced by one person do not necessarily reflect the outcomes that other people may experience.
Advertising may be in breach of this section of the National Law if:
Advertising should not encourage the public to use a regulated health service where there is no clinical or therapeutic need to do so as this is likely to encourage unnecessary use of health services. For example, encouraging people to attend for regular treatment when there is no clinical need or acceptable evidence to support this.
Advertising that promotes time limited offers may directly or indirectly encourage the unnecessary use of regulated health services.
Words or phrases such as ‘don’t delay’, ‘act now before it’s too late’, ‘don’t miss out’, ‘time is running out’, or ‘for a limited time only’ create a sense of urgency, and may be unlawful where they are linked to unsubstantiated claims that a person’s health may suffer if they do not use a regulated health service.