The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) has recently updated their "Guidelines for Advertising Regulated Health Services" and also introduced a new "Social Media Policy". These were released on Feb 13th 2014 and will take effect from 17th March, 2014.
As most businesses in these industries know, health professionals have particular responsibilities to uphold their professional obligations and this often raises questions in relation to reviews.
Thankfully, AHPRA has now clarified things somewhat to reduce the confusion.
In relation to how these policies relate to online customer reviews and WOMO, the Guidelines for Advertising Regulated Health Services state that;
- The use of testimonials or purported testimonials is prohibited (section 6.2) (This was clear in the previous guidelines as well.)
- A review is NOT considered to be a testimonial or purported testimonial, provided it only comments on non-clinical issues, regardless of whether it is positive, negative or neutral (section 6.2.3)
- In cases where a practitioner becomes aware of a testimonial (not review) associated with their health service or business, they must take 'reasonable steps' to remove that testimonial – eg. removing it from a social media page they manage, or requesting it be removed from a website they don't manage (although the actual removal is at the discretion of the website)
WOMO is also specifically named in AHPRA's new Social Media Policy for registered health practitioners, along with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and others. This states that;
- The Code of Conduct applies to all Social Media – especially in relation to privacy and confidentiality of patient information
- The Guidelines for Advertising Regulated Health Services should be followed in relation to any activity on Social Media
To further clarify the matter and ask some specific questions that are commonly asked of our team, WOMO's CEO, Fiona Adler, contacted AHPRA earlier this month and clarified the following points;
- The intent of these guidelines is to protect consumers from misleading claims
- In the vast majority of cases AHPRA has investigated, there have been no problems with the reviews
- If AHPRA becomes aware of a testimonial (a review containing clinical information by their definition), they send a warning to the business involved requesting that they ask for that review to be removed (there are no fines issued without sufficient warning but AHPRA can refer practitioners who do not comply with repeated requests to their national board to consider regulatory action)
- The act of businesses encouraging their clients to submit reviews on WOMO does not breach these guidelines, but AHPRA warned that these reviews should not include comments about clinical care
- Businesses can include other information about their business alongside their reviews, including logos, images, and a description of their business.
- Likewise, the display of a feed of a business' reviews on their own website does not constitute a breach to these guidelines
- These guidelines apply equally, regardless of whether or not the health practitioner is part of WOMO's paid service
The industries that fall under AHPRA's guidelines include;
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practice Board of Australia
- Chinese Medicine Board of Australia
- Chiropractic Board of Australia
- Dental Board of Australia
- Medical Board of Australia
- Medical Radiation Practice Board of Australia
- Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia
- Occupational Therapy Board of Australia
- Optometry Board of Australia
- Osteopathy Board of Australia
- Pharmacy Board of Australia
- Physiotherapy Board of Australia
- Podiatry Board of Australia
- Psychology Board of Australia
Please note that this information is our interpretation of the guidelines and we recommend that you read them for yourselves.