Advertising: online, offline, social media
There are serious penalties for breaching national laws regarding advertising of health services, so you need to know exactly what your practice can and can’t do to advertise its services. If your practice has adopted social media marketing, you also need to adhere to specific guidelines and have a social media policy in place.
Advertising regulations for medical practices
Medical practices and practitioners must comply with the national law
in advertising regardless of whether they are advertising in print, via a
website, radio, television or via a social media account. Advertising must
- make misleading claims
- offer an inducement such as a
gift or discount (unless the relevant terms and conditions are also
- use testimonials or purported testimonials about the
service or business.
- create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial
- encourage the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of a
regulated health service – that is, “a service provided by, or usually
provided by, a health practitioner”.
The medical board can
impose penalties for breaching the national law’s advertising requirements,
including restrictions on an individual’s registration and their ability to
practise. Medical practitioners may also be liable for a financial penalty -
$5000 for an individual or $10,000 for a corporation. The ACCC (Australian
Competition and Consumer Commission) and the TGA (Therapeutic Goods
Administration) also have responsibilities for the laws regarding advertising
of health services.
Responsibilities in the practice
You should be aware that medical practitioners who
delegate or outsource the responsibility for developing website or social
media content remain responsible for ensuring that the content is accurate and
complies with national law.
You should also ensure that the
practitioners review the content of any advertising of their services and
take reasonable steps to prevent non-compliance. For instance, testimonials
that are posted on practitioner websites or social media accounts (e.g. a
practice Facebook page) must be removed.
The medical board has specific
guidelines on the use of graphic or visual representations in health service
advertising, which includes photographs (of patients, clients or models),
diagrams, cartoons and other images.
Photographs that are used to
“… must only depict a real patient or client
who has actually undergone the advertised treatment by the advertised doctor
or practice, and who has provided written consent for publication of the
photograph in the circumstances in which the photograph is used”.Medical
Board Guidelines for Advertising of Regulated Health Services (Paragraph
Before and after photographs have restrictions placed on them to
ensure that, “the public can trust the truthfulness of the images”.
This means that the images must be taken under consistent conditions,
that it must be stated if the photographs have been altered and that it must
be confirmed that no other change has occurred (for example, if results have
been enhanced by diet and exercise).
Stock photographs and images of
models are not prohibited, providing that the requirements of s.133 of the
Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and the medical board guidelines
are met, but the medical board states that, “practitioners should
exercise caution due to the potential to mislead customers” (Paragraph
Where surgical or invasive procedures are advertised directly to the
public, a warning with text along the following lines is required:
“Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding,
you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health
practitioner” (Paragraph 6.2).
Surgical and invasive procedures
are defined in the guidelines and include procedures that have significant
risk, require admission to a day procedure centre or hospital or are elective
procedures requiring more than local anaesthetic or sedation.
If you are
unsure about the applicability of the guidelines in your circumstances, you
can contact AHPRA for advice.
Advertising of price information
This can be a difficult area, particularly
for proceduralists. Any information that is provided must be clear and not
misleading. Providing price information about the cost of consultations and
the relevant Medicare rebates must be straightforward. On the other hand,
providing accurate pricing via a website for procedures and inpatient
services may be complex due to the variables involved for each individual
Time-limited and special offers are not permitted. Providing
compensation to a journalist or to a print, television or radio outlet for
publicity is also prohibited, unless the fact of compensation is clearly
expressed. The use of gifts and discounts in advertising is also
Social media marketing
Social media marketing requires significant consideration about
whether the return on investment for your practice will make it effective.
You should also consider your practice’s capacity and skill to develop
content, adopt appropriate tone and use social media marketing in a way that
adheres to the guidelines.
As the practice manager, you need to be
aware that practitioners are responsible for comments that are posted on
their social networking account once alerted to the comment. Content should
therefore be reviewed regularly and policies put in place regarding:
- who determines what is appropriate content.
- who is responsible
for reviewing content, and how often.
- responding to complaints.
- responding to social media enquiries and messages.
engage in social media marketing requires a time investment – to create the
content and post it online. As a practice, you may also elect to invest
financially, by spending money on Google and Facebook to promote your website
or Facebook content. By spending advertising money on Google, you can promote
your listing to be at the top or right hand side of the page. By spending
advertising money on Facebook, you can promote your post so that it is seen
by more people.
It is possible to purchase ‘likes’ on Facebook and
followers on Twitter; these techniques are not recommended.
intend to utilise social media marketing, you must ensure that you have a
social media policy in place and that staff and patients are aware of the
policy and its relevant contents.
More information on social media in
Website and Search Engine Optimization page.
Risk Management Overview
- Risk Management Overview
- What is risk management ?
- Why do I need to consider risk management in the practice?
- What are the common risks in private practice?
- Common reasons for patient complaints
- Who is responsible?
- Who are the stakeholders in the risk management process?
- How to minimise risk
- The risk management process
- Risk management process: steps to consider