Advertising and Health Professionals

National Boards in the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme have revised the advertising guidelines that set down the Boards’ expectations of registered health practitioners in relation to advertising.

In relation to advertising, practitioners need to comply with the guidelines, the code of conduct for their profession and the advertising requirements detailed in section 133 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law).

A breach of the advertising requirements in the National Law is an offence and carries a maximum fine of $10,000 for a body corporate or $5,000 for an individual per offence.

A breach of the advertising requirements in the National Law by a registered health practitioner may also constitute unprofessional conduct and/or professional misconduct and can be dealt with by the National Boards through the disciplinary mechanisms available under the National Law. This can lead to restrictions on the practitioner’s registration and ability to practise.

Section 133 (1)(c) of the National Law specifically rules out the use of testimonials when advertising a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service.

The use of reviews in advertising of regulated health services is acceptable only when they comment on non-clinical issues, regardless of whether the review is positive, negative or neutral. Reviews must not contain statements about the quality of clinical care received from the regulated health practitioner, business and/or service.

Section of 133 of the National Law states in full…

133 Advertising

(1) A person must not advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that:
(a) is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to be misleading or deceptive; or
(b) offers a gift, discount or other inducement to attract a person to use the service or
the business, unless the advertisement also states the terms and conditions of the
offer; or
(c) uses testimonials or purported testimonials about the service or business; or
(d) creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment; or
(e) directly or indirectly encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services.
(2) A person does not commit an offence against subsection (1) merely because the person, as part of the person’s business, prints or publishes an advertisement for another person.
(3) In proceedings for an offence against this section, a court may have regard to a guideline approved by a National Board about the advertising of regulated health services.
(4) In this section regulated health service means a service provided by, or usually provided by, a health practitioner.

There are Guidelines for advertising regulated health services jointly developed by the 14 National Boards responsible for regulating registered health practitioners in Australia.

The 14 National Boards are:

• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practice Board of Australia
• Chinese Medicine Board of Australia
• Chiropractic Board of Australia
• Dental Board of Australia
• Medical Board of Australia
• Medical Radiation Practice Board of Australia
• Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia
• Occupational Therapy Board of Australia
• Optometry Board of Australia
• Osteopathy Board of Australia
• Pharmacy Board of Australia
• Physiotherapy Board of Australia
• Podiatry Board of Australia
• Psychology Board of Australia

The Guidelines 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, and
• explain the consequences of a breach of the advertising provisions of the National Law.

Health professionals should make themselves familiar with the Guidelines through their National Board.