Business, Management

Is your healthcare advertising compliant?

The pandemic has drastically altered the healthcare landscape and practices may have formulated new advertising campaigns accordingly. KAREN CROUCH explains how to remain compliant.

The COVID-19-induced ‘new norm’ is now a fact of life and we are now approaching the stage where ‘disease management’ has enabled us to re-focus on business and economics.

Naturally, practice marketing and advertising plays an essential role, not merely as a response to COVID-19 but as an opportunity during any future downturn.

Karen Crouch.

The enforced flight to increased online communication during isolation and lockdowns has also highlighted the importance of a meaningful, informative online presence via a well-constructed website with convenient facilities, including consultation bookings, news updates and convenient mobile phone apps.

Consequently, practices will be keen to ensure their websites and other documentary materials are updated to reflect the new environment.

Unfortunately, overzealous practices may be tempted to unwittingly develop their newly formed messages in a manner that may contravene AHPRA Guidelines for Advertising Regulated Health Services.

General principles

Advertising is a useful way to communicate services offered so consumers can make informed choices, but false and misleading information may compromise healthcare choices and is not in the public interest.

Unnecessary and indiscriminate use of regulated health services may lead to people purchasing or undergoing a regulated health service that may not be needed or required.

Additional obligations for advertisers are reflected in these guidelines with other codes and guidelines published by National Boards that convey expected standards of professional conduct for each regulated profession. The guidelines for advertising regulated health services were jointly developed by the National Boards responsible for regulating registered health practitioners in Australia.

They work to:

  • Explain and provide guidance on the obligations of advertisers under the National Law.
  • Describe advertising that is prohibited.
  • Comment on the use of factual information in advertising.
  • Explain that advertisers of regulated health services (whether registered health practitioners or not) have responsibilities under other legislation administered by other regulators.
  • Explain the consequences of a breach of the advertising provisions of the National Law.

These guidelines are not intended to stop members of the community and patients from discussing their experiences online or in person via platforms like social media. The guidelines only apply when a regulated health service is being advertised.

In terms of compliance, all advertisers of regulated health services must comply with the National Law, including the advertising requirements under section 133 – title and practice protection provisions under sections 113–120. They must also align with all other applicable legislation, such as the Australian Consumer Law and other laws regulating advertising.

Prohibited advertising

With prohibited advertising, section 133 of the National Law states a comprehensive list, including advertising that:

  • Is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to be so.
  • Offers a gift, discount or other inducement without stating the terms and conditions of the offer.Uses testimonials or purported testimonials.
  • Creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment.
  • Encourages indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services.
  • Misleading or deceptive advertising, directly or by implication, use of emphasis, comparison, contrast or omission.
  • Only provides partial information which could be misleading.
  • Uses misleading or deceptive phrases like ‘as low as’ or ‘lowest prices’, or similar words or phrases.
  • Implies that the regulated health services can be a substitute for public health vaccination or immunisation.
  • Uses words, letters or titles that may mislead or deceive a health consumer into thinking that the provider of a regulated health service is more qualified or more competent than a holder of the same registration category.
  • Advertises health benefits of a regulated health service when there is no proof that such benefits can be attained.
  • Compares different regulated health professions or practitioners, in the same profession or across professions, in a way that may mislead or deceive.

When formulating your advertising campaign, one should consider: Am I skilled in the services I’m advertising?; If I display or promote my qualifications, is it easy to understand and is there any risk of people being misled or deceived? Is the basis for my use of title, qualifications, memberships, endorsements relevant to my practice, current, verifiable and credible? Who is the audience and what is the advertisement likely to mean to them?

At a minimum, it’s about the viewpoint of a layperson with little or no knowledge of the professional service you’re selling.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Crouch is Managing Director of Health Practice Creations Group, a company that assists practices with set ups, administrative, legal and financial management. Email: kcrouch@hpcnsw.com.au hpcgroup.com.au