AHPRA releases further guidance on the use of testimonials

Morgan Liotta

14/06/2018 2:12:01 PM

Health organisations and individual practitioners should be aware that selectively editing reviews or testimonials can potentially break the law, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency has warned.

AHPRA has released further guidance to help professionally and legally protect health services when editing or posting testimonials.
AHPRA has released further guidance to help professionally and legally protect health services when editing or posting testimonials.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has released updated guidelines for health organisations and advertisers of regulated health services to ensure they do not fall in to the legal trap of selectively editing reviews or testimonials.
Editing reviews or testimonials has the potential to deliver false, misleading or deceptive information – which is therefore unlawful, AHPRA has said.
The AHPRA guidelines include a ‘testimonial tool’, designed to assist health practitioners, organisations and advertisers in meeting the professional and legal requirements when deciding if a testimonial about them complies with the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act (the National Law) and Australian Consumer Law.
The National Law states that reviews and testimonials are allowed, but altering them or advertising about a specific regulated health service or organisation breaches the law if the review or testimonial mentions a clinical aspect, or it is used by the health service provider to advertise by responding to the review or testimonial by re-publishing it on their website.
AHPRA highlights the following points to take into consideration when editing a review or testimonial, stating that it is misleading to:

  • edit a review that is negative to make it positive, as this falsely presents the feedback
  • edit a review that has a mix of negative and positive comments so that the published review only has positive comments, as this falsely implies that the reviewer only had positive feedback, or
  • edit a review so that it no longer accurately reflects all the reviewer’s feedback and presents an inaccurate or false impression of the reviewer’s views.
Updates of AHPRA guidelines and the recent release of tools are aimed at emphasising the importance of advertisers and organisations understanding their relevant legal obligations, with a recent example of an organisation found to have selectively edited patient reviews by altering negative reviews to positive.
AHPRA states that, ‘reviews influence consumer choice about their healthcare, so advertisers must make sure reviews are genuine and not misleading’.
Dr Nathan Pinskier, GP and Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – eHealth and Practice Systems (REC–eHPS), explained to newsGP that there are challenges to assessing quality in healthcare when reading online reviews.
‘What consumers tend to judge is the behaviour of their healthcare provider, the appearance of the practice, and waiting times,’ he said.
‘What practitioners focus on is the quality of the actual service – “Did I actually address their problem?” – so feedback can be skewed.’
Dr Pinskier suggests keeping it simple when responding to negative online reviews.
‘If a patient reviews your services [negatively], make sure your response is measured, non-emotive, factual, accurate and not likely to inflame the situation,’ he said.
GP resource
The RACGP’s Guide for the use of social media in general practice provides advice on safe and professional social media usage for GPs and other general practice staff, including the risks and benefits and legal requirements for advertising and testimonials.

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