The Australian public is entitled to accurate and honest information about healthcare services. Any person or business that uses a title, including protected titles, when advertising a regulated health service has an obligation to comply with the National Law. 1
This page will help you understand how titles can be used in advertising. It should be read in conjunction with other resources published on the Ahpra website including the Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service.
The National Law protects the public by ensuring that only registered health practitioners who are suitably trained and qualified use titles protected under sections 113-119 of the National Law. A person who is not a registered health practitioner cannot refer to themselves using one of the titles protected under the National Law, or hold themselves out to be a registered health practitioner.
Misuse of a protected title, specialist title or title relating to an endorsement is an offence under sections 113-119 of the National Law. This may also constitute behaviour for which health, conduct or performance action may be taken against a registered health practitioner under Part 8 of the National Law.
Advertisers should be aware that while use of some titles may not necessarily breach title protections under sections 113-119, they may be considered false, misleading or deceptive under the advertising provisions in the National Law (section 133).
Titles are used in several contexts by practitioners – the following guidance only applies when a title is used to advertise a regulated health service provided by a health practitioner.
Context is important when considering whether use of a title is advertising; and therefore, whether it is subject to section 133 of the National Law. Use of a title is unlikely to be considered to be advertising where it is not being used to promote the service provider to consumers.2 For example, where the title is used only within the employment context; and:
When advertising, it is important that the use of a title does not lead a consumer to believe the practitioner holds specialist registration or an endorsement they do not hold; or imply that the practitioner is more highly skilled or qualified than is the case.
However, use of titles in advertising may at times be helpful and informative. For example, use of a descriptive term might provide useful information to the public that the practitioner has a focus on a particular group of patients, area of practice or works in a specific setting (e.g. sports chiropractor). For example, someone seeking a practitioner to address a musculoskeletal condition does not expect to see a practitioner who deals only with neurological conditions.
So long as the descriptive term does not imply a specialist registration or endorsement, it can help the public make informed healthcare choices.
The only medical practitioners who can call themselves ‘surgeon’ are those holding specialist registration in surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, or ophthalmology. Restricting the use of the title surgeon in the medical profession follows an amendment to the National Law that introduces a new section 115A.3
Medical practitioners who do not hold specialist registration in surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, or ophthalmology will no longer be able to use the title ‘surgeon’. All references to ‘surgeon’ must be removed from all advertising including (but not limited to) websites, social media, letterheads, business cards and clinic windows.
Medical practitioners with general registration or specialist registration in a different specialty such as general practice or dermatology cannot call themselves ‘surgeon’, including ‘cosmetic surgeon’.
The new section only applies to registered medical practitioners. It does not change the rules for use of protected titles by health practitioners with specialist registration in the dental and podiatry professions, or for dentists using the title dental surgeon.
The advertising guidelines will be updated to include the changes when the advertising guidelines are next reviewed.
While use of a descriptive term with a protected title might provide useful information to the public, as described above, advertisers must take care that the title does not over-represent the practitioner’s skills, experience or qualifications, or imply specialist registration or endorsement.
Advertising that uses the words, or variations of the words or phrases ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, or ‘specialised’ implies the practitioner holds specialist registration and is likely to mislead the public if the practitioner does not hold specialist registration. Words such as ‘substantial experience in’ or ‘working primarily in’ are less likely to be misleading.
Example – Use of ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, ‘specialised’
Potential breach: Dr Lopez (Chiropractor) is a specialist in paediatric chiropractic care.
Correct: Dr Lopez (Chiropractor) has substantial experience working with musculoskeletal issues in children.
Where a practitioner holds specialist registration in a recognised specialty, they should ensure that the use of ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, or ‘specialised’ in their advertising is restricted to the specialty they are registered in and does not misrepresent their specialist registration.
Example – Overstating specialist area of practice
Potential breach: Dr Chan, Specialist paediatric general practitioner.
Correct: Dr Chan, Specialist general practitioner with substantial experience working with children.
A medical practitioner who holds specialist registration in general practice should not claim they are a paediatric specialist, as this may mislead the public into the belief that they hold specialist registration in paediatrics.
Advertising qualifications or memberships can provide the public with useful information about a practitioner’s education and experience. It can help the public make informed decisions about using regulated health services. If a practitioner holds further or postgraduate qualifications, or has specific experience, it is acceptable to advertise that in an accurate and factual way. It is also acceptable to refer to where the qualification was issued.
Example: Master of Public Health
Example: 10 years’ experience working at clinic XY
Where a National Board acknowledges further education awarded by a professional college, as in physiotherapy, any reference to the further qualification must clearly specify the relevant educational award.
Example: P Smith, Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist (as awarded by the Australian College of Physiotherapists in 2008)’.
For more information and other resources to help you check and correct your advertising so it complies with the National Law, see the Advertising hub.
1. The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law).
2. Protected title provisions under sections 113-119 apply to all contexts, including advertising.
3. The amendment is expected to take effect in NSW, SA and WA following state legislative processes.