Wrap-up: 3 things I have learned from #AHPRAaction

And so the AHPRA Action came to an end this week. The Medical Board announced on Wednesday it would work with the other Boards to change the advertising guidelines.

The media statement“(…) practitioners are not responsible for removing (or trying to have removed) unsolicited testimonials published on a website or in social media over which they do NOT have control.”

Hats of to the Medical Board and AHPRA for listening to the feedback. I have learned three things:

#1: We now all know the rules

The media attention and focus on the law and advertising guidelines has made the road rules clearer than ever. Testimonials mentioning clinical care & used in advertising are out, and unsolicited comments including thank-you’s are in. Of course we will have to wait for the final revision, but it seems we all know where we stand.

#2: Consumers and health care professions united

The controversial advertising guidelines united not only health professions, but also consumers and professionals. This should happen more often. Some have already raised ideas to bring the health care social media community together on a more structural basis – watch this space.

#3: Big government should involve stakeholders

Consumer health advocate Anne Cahill Lambert noticed that AHPRA had not received consumer submissions during the guidelines revision. In this Crickey Blog she wrote: “Genuine consumer participation is sometimes difficult. But it should not be dismissed out of hand because of its difficulty.”

AHPRA has already started engaging and listening via Twitter. Here’s hoping that AHPRA will genuinely engage all stakeholders during future guidelines and policy revisions – without further increases in registration fees of course.

New AHPRA Action campaign kicked off on Change.org

The AHPRA Action campaign has stepped up a notch. Medical Observer is now media partner, the protest action has a new logo (see image) and a new public petition kicked off yesterday.

A Parliamentary Inquiry found that the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme, managed by AHPRA “remains a large and complex bureaucracy with potential confusion over lines of responsibility and accountability.”

AHPRA’s new advertising guidelines are exposing Australian health professionals to unnecessary risks and create more red tape and confusion.

AHPRA regulates over 600,000 Australian healthcare practitioners and charges registration fees. Lawyers said about the new guidelines: “(…) the very broad wording in paragraph 6.2.3 of the updated advertising guidelines potentially exposes all health practitioners to a risk of breaching section 133(1)(c) of the National Law.”

Enough is enough – the advertising guidelines must be changed.

Sign the petition here

EDIT 28/03/14: SUCCESS! THE MEDICAL BOARD ANNOUNCED ON WEDNESDAY THAT IT WILL CHANGE SECTION 6.2.3 OF THE ADVERTISING GUIDELINES. THANK YOU FOR TAKING PART IN THE AHPRAaction CAMPAIGN!

AHPRA’s guidelines: Can someone tell me what just happened?

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency now says in its new guidelines that practitioners can be fined if patients post online testimonials praising the clinical care they received.

Last Friday, it seemed as if AHPRA had backed down on the harsh regulation. But is this really the case?

What does AHPRA say?

First of all, here’s a quote from the current guidelines:

a review (…) 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.

The guidelines also state that health practitioners must take steps to remove unsolicited testimonials appearing on any (social media) website not under their control. However, last Friday the medical board put out a media statement on the AHPRA website saying this:

The advertising guidelines apply to testimonials in the context of advertising (…) there is a clear difference between advertising – which requires an intent to promote the health services – and unsolicited online comment over which practitioners do not usually have control (…). The Board recognises that practitioners are unable to control what is written about them in a public forum.

The full statement can be found here.

3 unanswered questions

Indeed, this sounds a lot better than the official advertising guidelines – the medical press have used the words ‘backflip‘ and ‘backdown‘. However, the guidelines have not been updated, which leaves the following three questions unanswered:

1. If a patient posts a comment on my Facebook page stating that I gave excellent treatment, this is still considered in breach of the National Law according to AHPRA’s guidelines and I may be up for a fine if I don’t delete this friendly post. Will I be able to defend myself by referring to the media statement posted on the AHPRA website on 7 March 2014? If AHPRA is serious, the guidelines should be changed in accordance to their statement.

2. Health professionals need to know why our feedback about exactly this issue has not been taken on board in an earlier stage. The first draft guidelines appeared in 2012 and health practitioners were not impressed. The rules were already clear: we knew that testimonials in advertising are a no-go (and I don’t mean unsolicited Facebook comments from patients) – and of course this applies to websites, social media, the classroom, the elevator and anywhere else.

In AHPRA’s udated draft guidelines (2013) the issue of patient feedback vs testimonials had not been addressed, which again led to a storm of online comments as well as another lot of official submissions. See also this post (April 2013). As we know, the final version was published last month and positive patient feedback is not allowed, but then again on Friday the board seemed to think that patient comments are not advertising.

3. As the advertising guidelines are common to all national boards (e.g. dental, nursing & midwifery, psychology etc) we need to know if and how the statement by the medical board will be applied to the other 13 disciplines.

I’m happy with the clarification by medical board chair, Dr Joanna Flynn, and I agree it is a step in the right direction. But it still seems unnecessary government interference, and, after three revisions, the guidelines leave important questions unanswered.