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Understanding Patient Review Obligations for Regulated Australian Healthcare Providers

10 simple tips for generating positive Google reviews in 2022

Introduction

As a healthcare provider in Australia, it’s essential to navigate the complex landscape of advertising regulations, especially when it comes to patient reviews and testimonials. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) provides clear guidelines under the National Law, which strictly prohibits the use of testimonials in advertising regulated health services. This article delves into these regulations, helping healthcare professionals understand their obligations and ensure their advertising practices are compliant.

The Prohibition of Testimonials in Advertising

Under the National Law, testimonials or purported testimonials cannot be used in advertising regulated health services. This includes any positive statements or recommendations about the clinical aspects of a service, which can mislead patients by creating unrealistic treatment expectations, promoting unnecessary health services, or presenting false or selectively edited information. The law aims to protect patients from potentially harmful advertising practices that could influence their health decisions.

Defining Testimonials and Clinical Aspects

Testimonials are defined as any positive statement or recommendation about the clinical aspects of a regulated health service used in advertising. This encompasses patient stories, experiences, or success stories that focus on symptoms, diagnoses, treatments, or outcomes related to the service provided. It’s important to note that not all positive feedback constitutes a testimonial. Comments on non-clinical aspects, such as customer service or communication style, do not fall under this category and can be used in advertising.
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Social Media and Advertising

The use of social media in advertising regulated health services brings additional responsibilities. If a social media page promotes a regulated health service, it falls under the definition of advertising and must comply with the prohibition on testimonials. Healthcare providers are responsible for ensuring their social media content adheres to these guidelines, which may involve disabling review functions or carefully moderating content.

Patient Reviews: What's Allowed?

Patients are free to share their experiences and post reviews on various platforms, including business websites, social media, and review sites. However, the prohibition on testimonials applies when these reviews are used to advertise a regulated health service. It’s crucial for healthcare providers to distinguish between allowable patient feedback and testimonials that refer to clinical aspects, which cannot be used in advertising.

Advertiser's Responsibilities

Healthcare providers, as advertisers, must ensure their advertising content, including content on their websites and social media pages, complies with the National Law. This includes having control over the content and being able to modify or remove non-compliant material. Engaging with reviews on third-party websites is not allowed, as this could be construed as using a testimonial to advertise a regulated health service.

Navigating Reviews and Compliance

The selective editing of reviews or testimonials can lead to misleading advertising, violating the National Law. Providers should only publish unedited reviews that do not refer to clinical aspects of their services. This approach helps maintain transparency and prevents the dissemination of misleading information.

Do's:

  • Review Advertising Content: Regularly review all advertising content, including material on websites and social media you control, to ensure compliance with National Law.
  • Differentiate Between Testimonials and Feedback : Understand the difference between prohibited testimonials (related to clinical aspects) and permissible patient feedback (related to non-clinical aspects like customer service).
  • Disable Review Functions if Necessary: On social media or other platforms used for advertising, disable functions that allow testimonials, or comply with AHPRA guidelines by not interacting with the customer reviews.
  • Educate Staff and Marketing Teams: Ensure that everyone involved in creating or managing advertising content understands the regulations and the importance of compliance.
  • Monitor Third-Party Sites : Keep an eye on third-party sites that might feature your services, ensuring that any content over which you have control or influence is in line with AHPRA guidelines.

Dont's:

  • Avoid Using Testimonials : Do not use testimonials or purported testimonials in any form of advertising, including stories, patient experiences, or success stories that involve clinical aspects.
  • Steer Clear of Misleading Content: Do not edit patient reviews to remove negative content or to present a misleadingly positive impression of the service.
  • Resist Selective Publishing: Avoid selectively publishing only positive reviews, as this can create a biased and potentially misleading picture of your services.
  • Do Not Ignore Non-Compliant Content: Do not ignore non-compliant content on your advertising platforms. Take immediate action to remove or modify it to ensure compliance.
  • Avoid Engaging Directly with Reviews: Do NOT engage with reviews on third-party sites, as this could be seen as using a testimonial in advertising, which is against the guidelines.

In conclusion, navigating the regulations surrounding patient reviews and testimonials is crucial for regulated Australian healthcare providers.

By understanding and adhering to the AHPRA guidelines, healthcare professionals can ensure their advertising practices are ethical, legal, and focused on delivering the best possible care to their patients.

For additional information, we recommend you refer directly to the AHPRA guidelines on their website: https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Resources/Advertising-hub/Resources-for-advertisers/Testimonial-tool.aspx 

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