How to ensure compliance with AHPRA advertising guidelines: A Comprehensive guide

Are you a healthcare professional or a business that promotes health-related services or products?

If so, are you aware that there are laws that govern healthcare advertising?

In Australia, healthcare advertising is regulated by The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). They maintain strict laws to safeguard the public and guarantee that healthcare providers fulfill their ethical and professional responsibilities.

AHPRA legislation makes it clear that you are responsible for all your healthcare advertising. If you break their laws, you can face hefty fines or face a term of imprisonment.

And claiming ignorance isn’t considered a defence.

So, it’s crucial that you understand AHPRA law to ensure that your advertising practices are compliant.

With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about AHPRA’s advertising guidelines.

Who is AHPRA and what are they responsible for?

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is the organisation in charge of registering and accrediting health professionals in Australia.

AHPRA works with 15 national health practitioner boards to regulate Australia’s registered health practitioners. Their primary role is to protect the public by ensuring that regulated health practitioners maintain high standards of professional conduct.

A key part of AHPRA’s role is to regulate healthcare advertising to ensure that the public can trust the health professions. To do this, AHPRA has put together comprehensive advertising guidelines that are legally binding.

These guidelines aim to provide healthcare advertisers with clear rules on how to advertise so that people can make informed healthcare decisions.

Who needs to comply with AHPRA legislation?

You must follow AHPRA advertising legislation if you’re:

1. A registered health practitioner. This includes:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioners
  • Chinese medicine practitioners
  • Chiropractors
  • Dentists
  • Medical practitioners
  • Nurses and midwives
  • Occupational therapists
  • Optometrists
  • Osteopaths
  • Paramedics
  • Pharmacists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Podiatrists
  • Radiographers and radiologists

2. An individual advertising services or products that claim health-related benefits. For example, if you make claims such as “treats acne” or “reduces sun damage” you must comply with AHPRA guidelines.

3. A body corporate – This includes companies that manufacture or sell health services or products that claim health benefits.

It’s important to note that the AHPRA guidelines don’t only apply to registered health practitioners. Any individual or company advertising a health-related product or service must adhere to the legislation.

What are the consequences of breaching AHPRA advertising guidelines?

AHPRA legislation is legally binding and failure to comply can result in significant penalties.

The consequences of breaching AHPRA law will depend on the type of advertiser. Individuals may face a penalty of up to $5,000 per offense. A penalty of up to $10,000 per offense may be imposed on a body corporate.

The most severe breaches concern falsely claiming protected titles such as ‘medical practitioner’. For individuals, the punishment may be a fine of up to $60,000 per offense, imprisonment for up to 3 years per offense, or both. A body corporate may be fined up to $120,000 per offense.

What are the AHPRA guidelines?

The AHPRA guidelines give healthcare advertisers a comprehensive guide on how to promote their services in an honest and responsible way.

They cover the following areas:

  • Acceptable sources of evidence
  • Creating unreasonable expectations
  • Unnecessary promotion of services
  • Comparing health services
  • Titles and qualifications
  • Use of testimonials

Let’s take a closer look at each of these areas to ensure that your advertising practices are compliant.

Acceptable sources of evidence

In health and medical advertising, having access to reliable sources of evidence is crucial. This is because services or products being advertised can have a significant impact on people’s health and wellbeing, so it’s vital that any advertising claims are accurate and supported by reliable data.

AHPRA guidelines state you must provide credible evidence to back up any claims about the effectiveness of your health service or product.

AHPRA defines this as “acceptable evidence” that is sourced from:

  • Systematic reviews of the published literature
  • Meta-analysis of the published literature
  • Published, peer-reviewed clinical trials

It’s important to keep in mind that not all published literature is equal. When deciding if a source of evidence is reliable, it is essential to look at the credibility of the source and the quality and accuracy of the information it provides. You need to consider the study design, the number of people included and whether the results are statistically significant.

The AHPRA guidelines specify that avoiding ‘unacceptable sources of evidence’ is crucial. Unacceptable sources of evidence are not credible or accurate and do not provide sufficient information to support a claim or conclusion.

It’s important to avoid studies that don’t include:

  • Human subjects
  • An appropriate number of controls
  • Data-driven evidence

There aren’t any circumstances in which sources such as Wikipedia, Quora or personal blogs are acceptable. Personal opinions, hearsay or unsubstantiated anecdotes are also unacceptable and should never be cited.

Creating Unreasonable Expectations

When you advertise your services or products, it’s important not to create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment.

Misleading or exaggerating claims about the potential benefits of a treatment can lead to false expectations and disappointment for customers.

Your advertising shouldn’t:

  • Exaggerate a treatment’s potential benefit
  • Use words or phrases like “safe,” “effective,” “risk-free,” and “pain-free” to downplay the risks of a treatment or its potential side effects.
  • Use misleading or unsubstantiated information that causes someone to believe their health is at risk if they don’t use a health service
  • Claim a treatment is unfailing, miraculous or a certain cure
  • Claim that a practitioner has a special skill or treatment that will help the patient
  • Display photographs or videos of unlikely results

Indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services

It is also important for practitioners to remember that they should never mislead patients into believing that they need a particular treatment, or that a particular treatment is the only option available.

Your advertising cannot directly or indirectly:

  • Claim a person’s health will get worse if they don’t use a regulated health service, even though there is no clinical evidence to support this
  • Use words or phrases like “don’t wait,” “act now before it’s too late,” or “for a limited time only,” to create a sense of urgency
  • Encourage a person to keep frequent appointments even if there is no clinical justification to do so
  • Offer a gift, discount, or bonus as incentive to seek treatment.

Comparing health services

AHPRA has specific regulations for comparative advertising, which promotes one health service above another. This is because these types of ads can often be misleading if all relevant information isn’t included.

If you do make any comparative claims in your advertising, they must be clear, accurate and have supporting evidence.

However, there is one key consideration with comparative advertising in healthcare – it’s never a good idea. That’s because it’s extremely difficult to measure all the variables between different health services and make meaningful comparisons.

Which makes it easy to make false or otherwise misleading or deceptive claims.

So, if you’re thinking about making a comparison in your advertising, it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Titles, Qualifications and Registration

AHPRA prohibits the false advertising of titles or qualifications. This helps ensure patients can identify qualified practitioners, allowing them to make an informed decision about who they see for treatment.

1. Use a protected title without a relevant qualification

AHPRA has a list of specialist titles that are protected so that only people who have gained the appropriate qualifications can use them. They are:

ProfessionProtected Titles
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practiceAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health practitioner
Aboriginal health practitioner
Torres Strait Islander Health practitioner
ChiropracticChiropractor
DentalDentist
Dental therapist
Dental hygienist
Dental prosthetist
Oral help therapist
MedicalMedical Practitioner
Medical radiation practiceMedical radiation practitioner
Diagnostic radiographer
Medical imaging technologist
Radiographer
Nuclear medicine scientist
Nuclear medicine technologist
Radiation therapist
MidwiferyMidwife
Midwife practitioner
NursingNurse
Registered nurse
Nurse practitioner
Enrolled nurse
Occupational therapyOccupational therapist
OptometryOptometrist
Optician
OsteopathyOsteopath
ParamedicineParamedic
PharmacyPharmacist
Pharmaceutical chemist
PhysiotherapyPhysiotherapist
Physical therapist
PodiatryPodiatrist
Chiropodist
PsychologyPsychologist

It’s important to note that ‘Doctor’ isn’t a protected title. This is because the public associates ‘Doctor’ with medical doctors but ‘Doctor’ can be used if you have a PhD.

2. Claim to be a registered specialist in a field in which you are not qualified

You can only call yourself a specialist if you have specialist registration recognised by AHPRA e.g. You can only claim to be a dentist if you’re registered with the Dental Board of Australia.

It’s not acceptable to claim you’re a specialist in an area of practice in which you have experience or interest. For example, if you’re a general practitioner with experience working with children, you cannot claim to be a pediatrician.

To ensure that your advertisements are not misguiding the public, it’s important to carefully consider the use of ‘specialist’, specialises in’, ‘specialty’ or ‘specialised’. Instead, opt for expressions like ‘substantial experience in’ and ‘working primarily in’; they will be much less likely to mislead.

Use of Testimonials

Positive testimonials are a powerful way to convey trust and confidence. When potential customers hear that other people have had favourable experiences with your services or products, they are more inclined to buy them.

However, the problem with testimonials for healthcare services, is that they aren’t backed by medical opinion. They only provide a snapshot of one person’s experience and aren’t representative of other customers’ or patients’ situations.

Because of this potential for misleading customers, AHPRA prohibits using testimonials in healthcare advertising that pertain to any clinical aspects of healthcare. This means that you cannot use positive testimonials that are related to symptoms, diagnosis or treatment and outcomes.

The only instance in which testimonials are acceptable in healthcare advertising is when they don’t refer to clinical services. For example, comments about the helpfulness of the reception staff or the ease of making an appointment are acceptable.

AHPRA is aware that favourable testimonials about your services could show up on third-party websites, such as search engines or discussion forums. As an advertiser, you’re not responsible for removing testimonials submitted on websites you don’t control. However, you are breaking the law if you reply to these testimonials and use them for advertising on your website or other promotional materials.

How to ensure your advertising is AHPRA compliant

As a healthcare advertiser, AHPRA compliance is solely your responsibility.

If you follow the guidelines explained above, you can balance your advertising needs with the responsibility of providing accurate information to the public.

If you’re unsure whether your advertisements comply with AHPRA’s guidelines, it’s always better to be safe and get help from a professional. After all, the last thing you want is to fall foul of the regulator and end up facing some hefty fines or time in jail.

The problem is that the guidelines can be hard to untangle. And it’s hard to stay on top of regulations when you’re busy running your business.

This is where I come in.

I’m a writer with comprehensive knowledge of the AHPRA advertising guidelines. I can help you communicate your message in a way that adheres to all the guidelines, ensuring that your advertising is compliant.

I will provide you help with:

  • identifying missing information on potential risks and side effects
  • problematic wording
  • avoiding promoting unrealistic expectations
  • unnecessary promotion of your services
  • not making misleading or deceptive claims about your title and specialty
  • lack of acceptable evidence
  • non-compliant testimonials

Get in touch if you’d like help to ensure your content complies with AHPRA.

I’d be happy to chat with you about your needs and discuss how I can help.