These guidelines cover all types of advertising, including social media, blogs and websites. The following sections discuss some aspects of advertising in more detail, to provide further guidance to practitioners.
7.1 Social media
Social media includes work related and personal accounts on social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
A person is responsible for content on their social networking accounts even if they were not responsible for the initial posting of the information or testimonial. This is because a person responsible for a social networking account accepts responsibility for any comment published on it, once alerted to the comment. Practitioners advertising through social media should carefully review content regularly to make sure that all material complies with their obligations under the National Law.
These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Social media policy, published on National Boards’ websites.
7.2 Advertising qualifications or memberships
Advertising qualifications or memberships may be a useful way to provide the public with information about the experience and expertise of health practitioners. However, it may be misleading or deceptive if the advertisement implies that the practitioner has more skill or experience than is the case.
Including professional qualifications in an advertisement that also promotes the use or supply of therapeutic goods may be interpreted as a professional endorsement. Professional endorsements of therapeutic goods are prohibited under the Therapeutic goods advertising code 2007.
Patients or clients are best protected when advertisers promote practitioners’ qualifications that are:
- approved for the purposes of registration, including specialist registration and endorsement of registration
- conferred by approved higher education providers10, or
- conferred by an education provider that has been accredited by an accreditation authority.
A list of accreditation authorities and approved qualifications for each health profession is available on the relevant National Board’s website.
Helpful questions to consider
Practitioners who are considering the use of titles, words or letters to identify and distinguish themselves in advertising, other than those professional titles protected under the National Law for their profession, are encouraged to ask themselves the following questions:
10Within the meaning of the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (Cth).
7.3 Use of titles in advertising
The National Law regulates the use of certain titles. Misuse of a protected title is an offence under the National Law. The misuse of titles in advertising may also contravene other sections of the National Law related to title protection (please refer to Appendix 5(a)). For specific guidance on use of titles in the psychology and physiotherapy professions, please refer to Appendix 5(b).
Advertisers should be aware of the protected titles for the profession that they are advertising.11
There is no provision in the National Law that prohibits a practitioner from using titles such as ‘doctor’ but there is potential to mislead or deceive if the title is not applied clearly. If practitioners choose to adopt the title ‘Dr’ in their advertising and they are not registered medical practitioners, then (whether or not they hold a Doctorate degree or PhD) they should clearly state their profession.
Advertisers should avoid developing abbreviations of protected titles as these may mislead the public (e.g. ‘pod’, ‘psych’, ‘RN’). It may also be misleading to use symbols, words or descriptions associated with titles.
Clarity may be achieved by including a reference to their health profession whenever the title is used, such as:
- Dr Isobel Jones (Dentist), and
- Dr Walter Lin (Chiropractor).
11Refer to the relevant National Board website for a list of the endorsements and recognised specialties for that profession.
7.4 Advertising specialties and endorsements
The National Law allows for and protects specialist titles and endorsements (an endorsement on a practitioner’s registration indicates that the practitioner is qualified to engage, for example, in a wider scope of practice than other registrants).
A registered health practitioner who does not hold specialist registration may not use the title ‘specialist’, or through advertising or other means, present themselves to the public as holding specialist registration in a health profession.
The National Law prohibits claims of:
- holding a type of registration, including specialist registration, or endorsement of registration not held, and/or
- being qualified to hold an endorsement they do not hold.
While the National Law protects specific titles, use of some words (such as ‘specialises in’ ) may be misleading or deceptive as patients or clients can interpret the advertisements as implying that the practitioner is more skilled or has greater experience than is the case.
These words should be used with caution and need to be supported by fact. Words such as ‘substantial experience in’ or ‘working primarily in’ are less likely to be misunderstood as a reference to endorsement or specialist registration.
A registered health practitioner who does not hold an endorsement may not, through advertising or other means, present themselves to the public as holding such an endorsement (such as using professional titles that are associated with an approved area of practice endorsement).
A list of health professions with approved specialties, endorsements, including endorsements for scheduled medicines and area of practice endorsements, is available on the websites of the relevant National Board. These websites also explain the titles that a registered health practitioner with an area of practice endorsement may use.
7.5 Advertising price information
Any information about the price of procedures in advertising of regulated health services must be clear and not misleading.
It is often difficult to provide an accurate price for a regulated health service in an advertisement due to the individual nature of services and the number of variables involved in the treatment. If fees and price information are to be advertised, then price information should be clear, with all costs involved and out of pocket expenses clearly identifiable, and any conditions or other variables to an advertised price or fee disclosed. This is to avoid misleading consumers and ensure they are fully informed and able to provide their full consent about health services.
Use of phrases like ‘as low as’ or ‘lowest prices’, or similar words, phrases or questions when advertising fees for services, prices for products or price information, or stating an instalment amount without stating the total cost may be misleading and could contravene the advertising provisions of the National Law.
7.6 Use of scientific information in advertising
To not mislead or create false impressions, caution should be taken when using scientific information in advertising.
When a practitioner chooses to include scientific information in advertising, the information should:
- be presented in a manner that is accurate, balanced and not misleading
- use terminology that is understood readily by the target audience
- identify clearly the relevant researchers, sponsors and the academic publication in which the results appear, and
- be from a reputable (e.g. peer reviewed), and verifiable source.
7.7 Advertising therapeutic goods
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is responsible for regulating therapeutic goods including medicines, medical devices, biologicals, blood and blood products.
If the advertising only comprises pricing for prescription-only (Schedule 4 and 8) and certain pharmacist-only (Schedule 3 of the Poisons Standard) medicines, then the advertisement must comply with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, Therapeutic Goods Regulations 1990, the Therapeutic goods advertising code 2007 and the Price information code of practice. A list of practitioners permitted to advertise price information for certain Schedule 3, Schedule 4 and Schedule 8 medicines is included in the Price information code of practice, available via the TGA website.
If the advertising promotes one or more therapeutic goods (under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989), then the advertising must comply with the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, Therapeutic Goods Regulations 1990, the Therapeutic goods advertising code 2007 and, where relevant, the Price information code of practice.
Advertisers should note the definition of ‘advertisement’ in the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989.
See Appendix 4 for more information about advertising therapeutic goods.