Revised advertising guidelines GPs need to know

Matt Woodley

15/12/2020 2:52:55 PM

The updated AHPRA resource is designed to protect the public from false or misleading claims and allow them to make informed healthcare choices.

Graphic representing health advertising.
Serious advertising breaches may result in disciplinary action, including fines for each offence of up to $10,000.

The new guidelines contain additional information about testimonials and social media, acceptable evidence practitioners can use to support claims made in advertising, and protected titles and claims made about qualifications, competence and registration.
Karen Stephens, a risk adviser for medical defence organisation MDA National, told newsGP the majority of changes are found in section four of the guidelines, while new examples and flowcharts should make the information easier to interpret for each individual doctor’s practice.
‘It’s important for GPs to be up-to-date with the guidelines as doctors can receive – and our members have received – complaints about their advertising,’ she said.
‘Usually no further action is taken if the required changes are made, but failure to amend advertising or more serious breaches may result in disciplinary action or registration conditions, [including] fines for each offence of up to $5000 for an individual or $10,000 for a body corporate.
‘In the case of unlawful use of a protected title, [sanctions can reach] up to $60,000 [$30,000 in WA] and three years’ imprisonment for an individual or $120,000 [$60,000 in WA] for a body corporate.
‘Another possibility is referral to other regulators, such as the ACCC [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] or TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration].’
According to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) CEO Martin Fletcher, the guidelines aim to help explain the advertising requirements in the National Law and assist advertisers, including health practitioners, to promote themselves responsibly.
‘Responsible advertising about regulated health services helps to keep the public safe from false or misleading claims and supports the public to make informed choices about their healthcare,’ he said.
‘Health practitioners want to do the right thing and we encourage them to use the resources and information available to help ensure their advertising complies with the National Law.
‘Unlawful advertising can negatively influence healthcare choices and involve risks to public safety. When preparing their advertising, a health practitioner should always put the public first and ensure their advertising is not false, misleading or deceptive.’
Under the National Law, a regulated health service or a business providing a regulated health service must not advertise in a way that: 

  • is false, misleading or deceptive
  • uses gifts, discounts or inducements without explaining the terms and conditions of the offer
  • uses a testimonial or purported testimonial
  • creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, and/or directly or indirectly encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services.
The new guidelines were released on the same day the National Boards and AHPRA published their Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy for the National Scheme, which Mr Fletcher said sets out how regulatory tools are used to help ensure voluntary compliance and manage non-compliance.
AHPRA has also created a new advertising hub to help make it easier for practitioners to find the advertising information they are looking for.
The hub contains the relevant laws and other guidance practitioners can use to help understand their obligations and ensure their advertising is correct, as well as information for the public on how to make a complaint.
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