Advertising can provide helpful information about regulated health services. Advertising must comply with certain requirements to be lawful and advertisers (including registered health practitioners) are responsible for making sure their advertising complies with the advertising requirements.
The advertising requirements aim to:
Protect the public from unlawful advertising, including advertising that is false or misleading.
Ensure advertising about regulated health services is clear, accurate and truthful.
Help the public to make informed healthcare choices.
Advertisers may face penalties and other consequences for breaching the advertising requirements.
For detailed information about the advertising requirements go to Advertising guidelines and other guidance.
Advertising for regulated health services should be clear, direct, honest and include all important details.
Most adverts are correct, but there are some which breach the advertising requirements. Look out for these concerns which may breach the advertising requirements.
Information about a practitioner’s title, qualifications, speciality, training and areas of experience must be factual.
If the title ‘Dr’ or ‘doctor’ is used and does not refer to a registered medical practitioner, then the practitioner’s profession should be made clear, e.g. Dr Smith (osteopath).
When photos or images are used in advertising, advertisers must be careful to ensure the photos or images do not create an unreasonable expectation of benefits from treatment and are not otherwise misleading.
Information about prices must be clear and accurate.
If something is advertised as ‘free’ the terms and conditions of the offer should explain whether there are any other costs associated with the service (e.g. if some or all of the cost is covered by Medicare).
Adverts that offer a gift or discount must be accurate and honest and must state the terms and conditions of the offer, such as expiry dates and who is eligible, e.g. offer is available for new patients only.
It may not be possible in some advertising to display the terms and conditions alongside an offer of a gift or discount. In this case the offer should direct the public to the location of the terms and conditions. This allows for the full terms and conditions to be stated.
Adverts should use clear and simple language. They should not use scientific language or provide information that cannot be easily understood by the public.
Adverts referring to scientific studies should identify researchers, sponsors and the academic publication in which the results appear. Claims in advertising must be supported by acceptable evidence.
Adverts that make comparisons between health outcomes and quality of care, between professions, or the competency, skill or experience of practitioners, or between prices can be misleading or deceptive. This information should be supported by clear, complete and accurate information.
Adverts must be honest and not create unrealistic expectations about outcomes or benefits of treatment - all patients respond differently to treatment.
Adverts should not minimise risks or possible adverse reactions of treatment. They should not make claims such as treatment is ‘100% effective for all patients’, provide ‘cures’, is ‘harmless’, or has ‘no side effects’ unless there is evidence to support this.
Treatment should have a clinical or therapeutic purpose.
Adverts 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, or encouraging regular appointments to stay healthy.
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.
Adverts that use these words create a fear of missing out on treatment and may encourage unnecessary treatment.
Testimonials are not allowed in advertising. This is because they are often personal comments and the outcomes experienced by one person do not reflect the outcomes (or likely outcomes) available to others. They may not tell the whole story. For example, only including positive comments and not providing complete information about risks, side effects or pricing.
The ban on using testimonials in advertising does not apply to patients/consumers giving feedback, leaving reviews or sharing stories about their experiences (e.g. birth stories) on websites or social media.