FAQ: Advertising for chiropractors

Introduction

Section 133 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law as in force in each state and territory (the National Law) contains requirements for advertising a regulated health service and penalties for breaches of these provisions. The purpose of the National Law and its related guidelines is to protect the public.

The Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service (advertising guidelines) explain the advertising requirements in section 133 of the National Law. The advertising guidelines were jointly developed by the Chiropractic Board of Australia (the Board) and the other national health practitioner Boards (the National Boards).

As a risk-based regulator, the Board and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) will only take regulatory action where there is a risk to the public and will only apply the necessary regulatory force appropriate to manage the risk.

Chiropractors have an obligation to be familiar with the guidelines and meet the  requirements in the advertising guidelines.

These frequently asked questions (FAQ) provide information to help chiropractors to understand the advertising requirements of the National Law.

The National Law regulates the advertising of a regulated health service, meaning a service provided by, or usually provided by, a registered health practitioner.

In the context of advertising a regulated health service, advertising includes all forms of verbal, printed and electronic communication that promotes and seeks to attract a person to a regulated health service provider and/or to attract a person to use the regulated health service. This can include advertising via:

  • television, radio, cinema, newspapers, flyers, billboards, books (if the book is promoting a particular regulated health service provider), pictorial representations, designs, mobile communications or other displays 
  • internet (including websites, social media or online directories, and 
  • business cards, announcement cards, office signs, letterhead on public facing documents used to promote a health service provider, public and professional directory listings, and similar professional notices.

Advertising can also include situations in which practitioners make themselves available or provide information for media reports, magazine articles or advertorials if the practitioner (author) also promotes a particular (or their own) regulated health service provider.

If advertising a regulated health service, your advertising must not:

  • be false, misleading or deceptive, or likely to be misleading or deceptive 
  • offer a gift, discount or other inducement, unless the terms and conditions of the offer are also stated 
  • use testimonials or purported testimonials about the service or business 
  • create an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, or 
  • directly or indirectly encourage the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services.

Advertisers must not make false, misleading or deceptive claims in their advertising. To avoid being misleading and deceptive when advertising, advertisers should aim for the following:

  • sell your professional services on their merits
  • be honest about what you do and say in relation to your business practices
  • be able to identify when published material falls under the definition of advertising
  • be able to regularly check and maintain compliance of all your advertising
  • look at the overall impression of your advertising. Consider who the audience is, what the advertisement is likely to say or mean to them, and how easy it is for your audience to navigate and understand your advertising.

You should also ensure your advertising does not make statements about the effectiveness of the treatment that are not supported by acceptable evidence.

If you have a concern that your advertising may be misleading, you should remove it at once and seek appropriate advice from your professional association, insurer or a legal adviser.

Unreasonable claims of beneficial treatment can range from unsupported claims about therapeutic benefit, through to miracle cures. Advertising of treatments or services must not encourage or promote unreasonable expectations.

Testimonials are recommendations or positive statements about the clinical aspects of a regulated health service used in advertising.

Not all reviews or positive comments made about a regulated health service are considered testimonials. For example, comments about customer service or communication style that do not include a reference to clinical aspects are not considered testimonials for the purposes of the National Law.

A clinical aspect exists if one of the following is expressed:

  • Symptom – the specific symptom or the reason for seeking treatment.
  • Diagnosis or treatment – the specific diagnosis or treatment provided by the practitioner.
  • Outcome – the specific outcome or the skills or experience of the practitioner either directly or via comparison.

A statement or representation that appears to be a testimonial, whether provided in the first or third person. Examples include fake testimonials.

No. Section 133 of the National Law prohibits the use of testimonials or purported testimonials in advertising in all cases.

You can use the protected tile ‘chiropractor’ in your advertising if you are registered as a chiropractor under the National Law. The National Law regulates the use of certain titles (protected titles). Misuse of a protected title is an offence under the National Law. 

Only a registered health practitioner who holds specialist registration in a recognised specialty may use the relevant specialist title in advertising. 

National Boards consider that any advertising using words or titles related to specialty is likely to mislead the public to believe the practitioner holds a type of specialist registration approved under the National Law. 

Using the term ‘specialist’ in advertising may not necessarily breach the title protection provisions in the National Law, but may be considered false, misleading or deceptive. 

This includes advertising that uses the words, or variations of the words or phrases ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, or ‘specialised’. Words such as ‘substantial experience in’ or ‘working primarily in’ are less likely to be misleading. 

Use of a descriptive term with a protected title might provide useful information to the public that the practitioner has a focus on a particular group of patients, area of practice or works in a specific setting. 

However, advertisers must take care that the title does not over-represent the practitioner’s skills, experience or qualifications, or imply specialist registration or endorsement. 

Example – Protected title with a descriptive term
Correct: Dr Nguyen, Sports chiropractor.

Sports chiropractor is not a recognised specialty, so this does not imply the practitioner holds specialist registration, rather it describes the area of practice the practitioner works in.

Advertising qualifications or memberships may be useful in providing the public with information about education and experience and help them make informed decisions about accessing chiropractic services. You must make sure that any information included in advertising is not misleading and does not imply that you are more skilled or have greater experience than is the case.

If you hold further or postgraduate qualifications, or have specific experience, or have completed a specific course it is acceptable to advertise that in an accurate and factual manner, for example, ‘Master of Chiropractic’, or ‘ten years experience working at clinic XY’. It is also acceptable to refer to where the qualification was issued.

Only a registered health practitioner who holds specialist registration in a recognised specialty or an endorsement may use the relevant specialist title or a title relating to an endorsement in advertising. There are no specialist registration categories for Chiropractors under the National Law.

When a practitioner does not hold specialist registration, the National Boards consider that any advertising using words or titles related to specialty is likely to mislead the public to believe the practitioner holds a type of specialist registration approved under the National Law.

This includes advertising that uses the words, or variations of the words or phrases ‘specialist’, ‘specialises in’, ‘specialty’, or ‘specialised’. Words such as ‘substantial experience in’ or ‘working primarily in’ are less likely to be misleading.

‘Doctor’ is not a protected title, but registered health practitioners must be careful about how they use ‘Doctor’ or ‘Dr’ in their advertising because the public historically associates the term with medical practitioners. 

If you use the title ‘Dr’ in your advertising and you are not a registered medical practitioner, then (whether or not you hold a Doctorate degree or PhD) you should make it clear that you do not hold registration as a medical practitioner. For example, by including a reference to your health profession whenever the title is used, such as: ‘Dr Lin (chiropractor)’. 

Yes. However, advertising that uses bonuses, discounts, gifts, or prizes may directly or indirectly encourage the unnecessary use of regulated health services. If the value of the prize greatly outweighs the cost and risk of the treatment to the person, it may encourage them to use a regulated health service regardless of clinical need or therapeutic benefit.

Advertising offering a gift, discount or other inducement must:

  • state the terms and conditions of the offer
  • ensure terms and conditions are clear and easily understood, accurate and honest, and
  • ensure the terms and conditions are easy to find. 

Advertising that promotes time limited offers may directly or indirectly encourage the unnecessary use of regulated health services which is prohibited under the National Law. Your advertising should not create an impression or a sense of urgency that is linked to a person’s health suffering if they do not use a regulated health service, where there is no clinical indication to support this. 

Words or phrases such as ‘don’t delay, ‘act now before it’s too late’, ‘don’t miss out’, ‘time is running out’ or ‘for a limited time only’ create a sense of urgency, and may be unlawful where they are linked to unsubstantiated claims that a person’s health may suffer if they do not use a regulated health service.

Our Advertising compliance and enforcement strategy sets out how low and medium risk breaches of the National Law and the advertising guidelines are generally dealt with through an administrative process. These matters are closed once a practitioner corrects any advertising breaches. If a practitioner does not correct advertising breaches, and/or has repeated incidents of unlawful advertising the National Board may consider placing conditions on the practitioner’s registration preventing them from advertising.

High risk breaches are prioritised and are investigated, which may lead to prosecution or disciplinary action depending on the specific case. These outcomes may affect a practitioner’s registration.

For more information about the management of breaches of the advertising requirements see Advertising complaints

You are responsible for the advertising that you publish or that is within your control.

This can also include situations in which you make yourself available or provide information for media reports, magazine articles or advertorials if the practitioner (author) also promotes a regulated health service.

No. Ahpra and the National Boards cannot give you advice or an opinion about advertising and cannot check or pre-approve your advertising to see if it complies with the National Law and the advertising guidelines. 

This is because as statutory regulators our role is to enforce the law not to provide legal advice to advertisers about how to advertise. However, the Boards and Ahpra have published resources on the Ahpra website to help you understand and meet the advertising requirements.

 

For more information

  • Read the Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service
  • Visit the Advertising hub on the Ahpra website.
 
 
 
Page reviewed 22/01/2021