Check, correct, comply: AHPRA releases new tool for advertising testimonials

Paul Hayes

17/05/2018 12:35:41 PM

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency has released a new tool designed to help avoid confusion about the use of patient testimonials and reviews to advertise regulated health services.

The enduring nature of online information means that once a mistake is made, it is almost impossible to remove.
The enduring nature of online information means that once a mistake is made, it is almost impossible to remove.

The use of online advertising – specifically patient testimonials – is an uncertain area with significant potential ramifications for healthcare professionals, who must abide by the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Act (the National law).
According to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), testimonials are ‘statements, stories and anecdotes about clinical care from past patients or clients making a recommendation about a health service or its quality’.
AHPRA’s new tool is designed to help practitioners and advertisers understand their obligations regarding the use of patient testimonials to advertise health services, and how to comply with the National Law.
While many businesses use online testimonials on their websites, the National Law prohibits their use in advertising for regulated health services because, ‘they have the potential to wrongly influence the buying decisions of consumers’.
However, the ever-evolving landscape of modern advertising, particularly in the world of social media, can potentially create confusion – and danger – for healthcare professionals, who may unwittingly contravene advertising guidelines.
‘Websites and social media have increasingly evolved into major marketing tools,’ AHPRA Chief Executive Martin Fletcher said.
‘The National Boards and AHPRA recognise that these sites provide opportunities for patient feedback, but advertisers have a legal and professional responsibility to make sure they don’t use testimonials unlawfully in advertising.’
 ‘Comments about friendly staff, plenty of parking or extended opening hours, for example, can be used to advertise a regulated health service but, under the law, advertising cannot include testimonials about clinical care,’ he said.
‘I encourage practitioners and advertisers to use the testimonials tool to help them get it right. This means not encouraging patients to leave testimonials and removing testimonials published on websites or other online platforms which they control or administer.’
Testimonials and the National Law
AHPRA’s FAQ about advertising page includes detailed information about the use of patient testimonials in advertising a regulated health service.
Why can’t I use testimonials in my advertising?
There are several reasons why testimonials are likely to mislead consumers and aren’t allowed in advertising, including because:

  • they are personal opinions from former clients and have no scientific or objective basis as a recommendation of a health practitioner’s services 
  • the outcomes experienced by one patient do not necessarily reflect outcomes available to all consumers or the likely outcomes 
  • they are not usually a balanced source of information, as they typically include a narrow selection of positive comments from patients, and therefore don’t tell the whole story about a practitioner's services (ie they can be misleading) 
  • patients may place too much weight on testimonials because they do not have the expert knowledge to accurately assess their validity.
This means it is not acceptable to use testimonials in [practice] advertising, such as on [a] Facebook page, in a print ad or on [a] website.

AHPRA national-law patient-testimonials

newsGP weekly poll Do you think your patients would benefit from doubling dispensing times to 60 days?


Login to comment

Mrin Nayagam   18/05/2018 9:25:18 AM

Good advice Thanks !

Janet Camilleri Health Care Copywriter   27/11/2018 9:58:18 AM

While health professionals may not solicit testimonials from patients, as far as I am aware there is no way to stop people from leaving reviews on Google ... unlike say, Facebook, where the page owner can turn off reviews and feedback.