Why it is important for AHPRA to get this right

Why it is important for AHPRA to get this rightWorking in health care is often a balancing act. Everyday I am walking a fine line between, for example, not requesting too many CT scans for people presenting with a headache, and at the same time not missing that rare brain tumour. If I fail in the first case Medicare will know where to find me, in the second case AHPRA may be knocking on my door.

God forbid that I ever find myself investigated by AHPRA’s Medical Board. But it could happen of course. We all have our bad days and make mistakes or judgmental errors.

If that happens I need to be sure that the Medical Board knows what it’s doing. This also means AHPRA’s policies and procedures must have no obvious flaws or loopholes.

Yesterday AHPRA published a 5-page long document with frequently asked questions and answers regarding advertising – which is very much welcomed. It helps to understand where AHPRA is coming from. However, the initial comments I read on Twitter and several blogs (see here and here) were not unanimously positive. Many health professionals and consumers feel the document is contradicting the advertising guidelines, and I can see why.

I’ll give an example:

The first page of the FAQ document states that the advertising guidelines ‘do not apply to unsolicited online comment over which practitioners do not have control.’ But… AHPRA’s advertising guidelines say on page ten (Section 6.2.3) that practitioners should have testimonials removed ‘even if they appear on a website that is not directly associated and/or under the direct control or administration of that health practitioner and/or their business or service. This includes unsolicited testimonials.’

Australian health professionals certainly have the right to scrutinise AHPRA’s work and demand clarity.

AHPRA should make amendments to the advertising guidelines now – not in three years time – to make an end to the confusion and maintain its high quality standards – and the trust of consumers and health professions.

Sign the petition here.

8 thoughts on “Why it is important for AHPRA to get this right

  1. It is my belief that by an organisation committing to social media that they are doing so as part of a commitment to transparency. This means they enter into the space knowing that they have to take the good with the bad; which also means that by committing to transparency that they will not remove comments good or bad.

    These guidelines make it virtually impossible to maintain that commitment. In removing the positive comments, eg “thanks to my midwife, Jane Smith, I had a great birth experience” a skewed view of their service will be presented. There is also the issue of trust; people in this space see the good and the bad, if you remove comments they wonder what else you are hiding and will then be less inclined to trust you and engage in the future.

    Looking from a sustainability angle; most health organisations wouldn’t be investing in high level tools that crawl the net looking for mentions, let alone employing a person to do this task. It is so easy in this digital age for people to check in, it happens hundreds of times a day, with people providing feedback at the touch of a button on the run about services (think google reviews, Trulocal etc). To track these mentions across multiple platforms would be an exhausting task. Given the task here for us working in the health system, how on earth do #AHPRA intend to monitor for mentions to then target individuals to take down testimonials?

    In a nutshell 6.2.3 is simply not sustainable or reasonable by any stretch of the imagination.


    • Thanks Kate for taking the time to comment. Deleting comments indeed goes against many social media guidelines, including the 12-word policy by the Mayo clinic: “Don’t Lie, Don’t Pry, Don’t Cheat, Can’t Delete, Don’t Steal, Don’t Reveal.”

      The AHPRA guidelines have caused confusion because they’re not clear enough. I have read them many times and this is how I interpret it all:

      Section 6.2.3 to which you also refer states: “a review on [a] social media site that states ‘Practitioner was quick to diagnose my illness and gave excellent treatment’, is a testimonial which references clinical care and is considered in breach of the National Law.” It seems however that this is not seen as a testimonial if it isn’t used for advertising, like unsolicited online comments made by consumers in a Facebook discussion. However if a health practitioner then would repost these comments on a site controlled by a regulated health service it may again become a testimonial in breach of the National Law.

      If I’m correct and this is indeed AHPRA’s line of thinking, they certainly haven’t explained this clear enough in the guidelines.

      Although the guidelines warn that health professionals must take steps to remove unsolicited testimonials, AHPRA’s FAQs say: “The Boards do not expect you to monitor social media […],” and: the guidelines “do not apply to unsolicited online comment over which practitioners do not have control.” So it seems any testimonial on a third party site is safe. But an unsolicited testimonial on a health practitioner’s official website (of a regulated health service) needs to be deleted if it mentions clinical care. I’m not sure what happens if the testimonial is made on the health practitioner’s personal Facebook page, although I assume it wouldn’t be allowed either.

      I think we need some more specific examples from AHPRA about what is and what isn’t allowed. Eg “Dr xxx is very friendly, funny, only runs a little late and has the latest Women’s Weekly and 4WD magazines in the waiting room” is probably allowed because it doesn’t mention clinical care.

      One would hope that the guidelines make this clear and can be read without a FAQ document (the word version is currently already 6 pages!). So, again, AHPRA can do a better job and should clarify the current guidelines, esp Section 6.2.3. and not just add more FAQs.


  2. AHPRA needs to get its act together and fix this debacle. There is no clarity here only confusion. They need to start with a clean sheet of paper and consult with the profession and that means you and your colleagues. After all, they rely on your funds to create this mayhem and show boundless enthusiasm in poking Drs with the sharp regulatory and adninistrative instruments they endlessly create; so it’s not unreasonable that they at least get the cumbersome aparatus absolutely right in the first place.


  3. Saying positive things about the care provided by doctos and other health practitioners is by no means new. Just look at the public announcements from 100 year ago.

    “Mrs and Mrs Smith would like to thank Dr Brown and midwife June for the delivery of a healthy baby”

    “The children of Mrs Green wish to thank Dr Jones and all the wonderful nursing staff at Mt Golly hospice for the wonderful care provided whilst their mother was endring the last days of her illness”

    Was this an issue for for the state based Medical Boards??

    I see the only difference being that the media has changes and the audience if potentially greater. How mnay newspapers would have checked these lines to make sure they were indeed legitimate?


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