Skip links

10 Mistakes Allied Health Practitioners Make In Their Advertising

Advertising and marketing are important for any business. But if you’re an allied health practitioner in Australia, and are regulated by AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency), there are some rules that you need to be aware of.

Consumers must be able to make informed decisions about their healthcare needs. That’s why AHPRA has developed Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service. Also known as the advertising guidelines, these apply to all forms of advertising.

Defining advertising

Advertising is anything you do to draw attention to your services. It includes all forms of verbal, printed and electronic communication such as paid advertising, directory listings, websites, and social media. A complete definition of advertising can be found in AHPRA’s advertising guidelines.

The 10 most common mistakes

Unfortunately, many health practitioners breach the advertising guidelines. Most of the time, these breaches are unintentional — either because the guidelines are hard to find and understand, or because practitioners are too busy to cross-check their content against AHPRA’s guidelines.

Here are the 10 most common mistakes that health practitioners make when advertising and how you can avoid them:

1.     Calling yourself a specialist

If there are no recognised specialist categories in your profession, you can’t refer to yourself as a ‘specialist’ or someone who has a ‘specialty’ or ‘specialises in’ a particular area. This is the case even if you have extra training or experience in that area.

If you do hold specialist registration in a recognised specialty, you must only use terms like ‘specialist’, ‘specialising’, ‘specialty’ or ‘specialised’ in the context of the specialty you are registered in.

Tip: Use AHPRA’s list of approved specialties and specialty fields to ensure you get it right.

2.     Misusing titles

Some health titles are protected, whichmeans you can only use them if you genuinely have qualifications in that field.

You also need to be careful with the use of ‘doctor’. While it’s not a protected term, it’s traditionally associated with registered medical practitioners. If “Dr” does not refer to a registered medical practitioner, (e.g., Podiatrist, PhD) this must be clear.

Tip: Read AHPRA’s information on titles in health advertising to learn more.

3.     Publishing patient testimonials

Many health practitioners breach advertising legislation by publishing patient testimonials that include aspects of clinical care. You can’t use any testimony that mentions:

  • the reason the patient sought treatment
  • the diagnosis and treatment the patient received
  • the outcome of the diagnosis or treatment
  • the skills of the practitioner, either directly or via comparison with another practitioner.

You should also avoid editing testimonials to suit you as this has the potential to be misleading and deceptive.

If patients give you a Google review, you won’t be in breach of the advertising guidelines. This is because AHPRA considers third-party platforms to be out of your control. However, if you respond to the review, republish it, or use it to advertise your practice, you will be breaking the law.

4.     Providing unrealistic expectations of treatment

You must be very careful not to create an unreasonable expectation of treatment benefits.

Unreasonable expectations include overstating potential benefits of treatment, minimising risks and recovery time, or stating that treatment outcomes are guaranteed. You also need to be careful when using before and after photos.

It’s very easy to create unreasonable expectations of treatment benefits with the words you use. Avoid words such as:

  • cure
  • treat (you can’t treat all conditions, but you can manage them or treat symptoms)
  • safe
  • proven
  • can (use may instead)
  • pain-free
  • harmless
  • guaranteed

5.     Making unsupported health claims

Any health claims must be backed up by ‘acceptable evidence’. This mostly includes data from formal research or systematic studies in the form of peer-reviewed publications. If you make health claims, be sure to include your evidence and full references.

Tip: This is a tricky area. Refer to the AHPRA website for more detailed information.

6.     Using old research studies to back up health claims

While we’re on the subject of research, be sure to use the most recent studies. AHPRA prefers studies no more than five years old.

7.     Listing conditions that you can ‘treat’

Be very careful about claims that treatment can help with conditions that are not within your professional scope of training. You also need to be careful when using the word ‘treat’. Not all conditions can be treated. But you can manage or treat symptoms related to the condition.

You should also avoid listing health conditions you treat in advertising, as this increases the likelihood that there will be no suitable supporting evidence.

8.     Failing to acknowledge risks and side effects

All treatments come with risks and potential side effects, so you must disclose this in your advertising. Include a statement to clarify that all treatment and procedures come with risks and that the consumer should discuss these with their practitioner.

9.     Discrediting other health professionals

Claiming or inferring that other medical professionals are wrong, incompetent or didn’t treat their patients well is not allowed. Nor are statements saying you were able to help a patient when another health practitioner couldnot. Avoid referring to other health professionals in your advertising.

10.  Encouraging regular check-ups

Advertising that encourages patients to make regular appointments where there is no clear clinical benefit isn’t allowed. You are also prohibited from inferring that a patient’s health will decline if they don’t have regular appointments.

How to make your advertising compliant

To ensure your advertising is compliant you must be familiar with the advertising guidelines. AHPRA has a section on their website dedicated to advertising. On it, you can find the guidelines, information about ‘acceptable evidence’, how to advertise using social media, and common examples of incorrect advertising.

Visit the AHPRA Advertising Hub and their section on social media advertising to learn more.

Where can you go for help?

As well as the AHPRA website, you can contact your national board or professional peak body for advertising advice. Some boards have position statements which are important to be aware of.

You can also ask a copywriter who understands AHPRA advertising guidelines to help you with your content. However, be aware that as the advertiser, you are responsible for your advertising, even if someone else wrote the copy.

It’s important to take the time to check your advertising is AHPRA-compliant. If it’s not, you may be liable for fines, imprisonment or restrictions on your ability to practice.

Nerissa Bentley is a Melbourne-based copywriter who focuses on providing evidence-based, AHPRA-compliant creative services for allied health professionals, medical practitioners, and organisations. Learn more about her work on her website The Melbourne Health Writer, or view an outline of her services on our Service Directory.

Leave a comment