- Avoid language or images that may mislead patients or cause an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment
- Advertising should not encourage patients to use a health service that is not clinically indicated
- Do not use testimonials or repost positive comments from social media platforms
- Any offers must clearly state the relevant terms and conditions
Advertising is a useful way to reach patients, so they can make
an informed decision and understand how to access health care
when they need it. It also promotes you or your practice as a
All businesses, including doctors and medical practices, have
obligations to ensure their advertising is not misleading, as this can
cause harm to the public. Understanding your responsibilities can
help you to effectively communicate your services while fulfilling
your legal and ethical obligations.
What is advertising?
Advertisements can be included on social media, websites, mobile
communications, office signs, and magazine and newspaper
articles. It can also include television advertisements or occasions
when a practitioner appears on television or radio to provide
information, for example, in a health report.
The aim of regulating the advertising of healthcare services
is to protect the public from false or misleading claims and to
help people make informed decisions about their health care.
Regulations are also aimed at communications that might offer
inducements or encourage indiscriminate or unnecessary use of
Breaches of the law attract penalties. Ahpra’s guidelines and
advertising resources explain the prohibitions in more detail and
Areas to watch in particular are websites featuring patient
testimonials; before and after photographs; and discounts,
prizes and similar incentives.
Websites are often developed by people outside the medical
profession who may not be aware of the relevant law so ensure
you check all content, including images, on your website.
Use of factual information
You can use your own factual information in advertising material.
This includes your name, your contact details, your qualifications,
speciality training and areas of experience.
You cannot imply that you are the best person in your speciality or
the best person for a particular procedure, and you should avoid
all comparisons between yourself and other healthcare providers.
Be careful about what you can claim as a statement of fact,
particularly in terms of the benefits of a treatment.
Caution is needed to ensure the procedure you are advertising
is clinically relevant and necessary for the patient and that the
business model or sales pitch does not lose sight of patients’
best interests. It can be difficult
to determine what procedures are necessary. You should be
particularly mindful of this when advertising cosmetic procedures.
Use of titles
Non-medical doctors (those with a PhD) should list their area
of expertise and make it clear their qualification is not a
For medical doctors, there may be concerns about the use of
‘protected’ titles and endorsements or claiming expertise. For
example, unless you have completed suitable specialist training
recognised by Ahpra and the Medical Board of Australia (MBA)
you should not use the term ‘specialist’ or any similar words as this
could mislead the public into thinking you hold the same level of
expertise and training as a practitioner with Ahpra and MBA recognised specialist training.
It is unlawful to use testimonials about clinical aspects of your care
in your advertising. This includes testimonials that comment on
symptoms, the reasons treatment was sought, the intervention
provided, the outcome or your skills or experience.
Reviews, testimonials or feedback that do not include reference to
clinical aspects of care are allowed, for example, comments such
as “convenient location” or “friendly staff”.
You are able to use an award symbol or rating from a third-party
review site in your own advertising, as long as you do not also
publish the testimonials on which the award or rating is based.
Editing a testimonial in any way is not advised. This can happen,
for example, in an attempt by a practice to remove the clinical
aspects of a review leaving just non-clinical content. Only
unedited, non-clinical testimonials are acceptable. Given the
pitfalls of editing, we recommend avoiding all testimonials as the
Increasingly medical practitioners are using social media platforms
to increase their profile and services. This should be done
cautiously. You should not repost any compliments about you
by patients that appear on the social media platforms of other
individuals or entities as these will likely be testimonials. You
should not encourage patients to post positive comments about
you on any sites.
While you are not required to remove positive comments from
platforms outside your control (such as doctor rating sites), you are
responsible for ensuring the content of testimonials on sites you
control does not breach the National Law.
Photographs and images
Take care with images used in your advertising. Several issues arise
with the use of images, particularly ‘before and after’ photographs.
These may be misleading and could be seen to induce an
unreasonable expectation of benefit. Images must be of a real
patient who has undergone the advertised procedure in your
practice. Patients may consent to the use of images, but consent
must be informed, in writing and free from any inducement.
Stock images are acceptable in your advertising provided they
are not used to infer a false claim or mislead.
Advertising of price information
This can be a difficult area, particularly for doctors performing
procedures. 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 while still indicating any variables that may apply
given the needs of individual patients.
Rewards and inducements
Inducements, including rewards such as gift vouchers or
discounts for referrals, are problematic because they may
encourage indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services,
which is prohibited.
Discounts are only permitted if the full cost of the treatment
is advertised and the associated terms and conditions of the
discount are clearly stated.
Offering payment plans to patients is not recommended for a
variety of reasons. From the advertising perspective, highlighting
a payment plan option may be seen as encouraging the
indiscriminate use of health services.
Where surgical or invasive procedures are advertised directly to
the public, a warning is required. This applies to those 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. Ensure the warning is clearly visible
and is along the lines suggested by Ahpra: “Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you
should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health
As well as complying with the Ahpra guidelines there are some
additional considerations. The Therapeutic Goods Administration
(TGA) has specific requirements and any advertising that mentions
a pharmaceutical product needs to comply with its regulations.
Specifically, TGA regulations prohibit advertising of any
prescription-only drugs and some pharmacist-only medicines.
This includes pictorial representations and photographs.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is
the national advertising regulator and medical advertising needs
to meet its requirements with regards to consumer protection
We recommend you keep detailed records of your advertising
and review your advertising regularly. You should rely on Ahpra
resources. If you are unsure whether the guidelines apply in your
circumstances, you can contact Avant for advice.