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AHPRA has released some questions and answers to clarify its position on social media use following the release of its updated guidelines and codes of conduct for medical practitioners.

The advertising guidelines were the most contentious as they appeared to count positive comments about doctors, on websites they were not associated with, as testimonials.

AMA Tasmania is aware that online comments are ubiquitous and that they are beyond the control of any one individual if they appear on websites he or she does not operate.

Add that to the difficulty of permanently deleting anything from the Internet and that the guidelines could be enforced by disciplinary bodies, the outrage generated is completely understandable.

The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law prohibits a health practitioner from using a testimonial in an advertisement.

As written, the updated guidelines on advertising originally appeared to require doctors to contact websites they did not control and ask for positive comments about them to be taken down.

Requesting removal of positive comments was listed as taking ‘reasonable steps’ in order to comply with the guidelines.

However, question four of the new information released by AHPRA limits the scope of what an individual doctor will be held accountable to under the new guidelines:

  • 4. What if someone else publishes a testimonial without my knowledge? How can I be held responsible for what other people say about my services?

Advertisers are responsible for removing testimonials published on a website or in social media over which they have control. 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.

That said, question six describes an example of how a comment made by someone else at a website an individual is not responsible for may become problematic for a doctor.

  • 6. Can comments that I don’t control become advertising?

Testimonials that are not initially made in an advertising context can be used as advertising if you actively draw attention to them, such as by sharing, forwarding, retweeting or otherwise using a comment about your clinical performance to advertise your practice, even if the comment was initially made somewhere other than on a site you control. Promoting your practice using testimonials made in other contexts could breach the ban on using testimonials in advertising.

For more information on how AHPRA distinguishes between websites and social media accounts under a person’s control and those that aren’t, please see the questions and answers from AHPRA.

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