Major legal changes to hit specialist practice


By Geir O'Rourke

10 Jun 2022

The ban on specialists using patient testimonials in their marketing is set to lift amid claims it is no longer practical due to the rise of social media.

AHPRA would also be allowed to issue public warnings about doctors without a tribunal ruling, under the looming changes to the health practitioner  national law.

Currently before Queensland Parliament, the reforms follow a multi-year consultation and will be adopted around the rest of Australia if passed.

But the bill has already been condemned by medical defence organisations and the AMA, which is warning it will create confusion around advertising rules and add to the “fear and uncertainty” faced by doctors after a complaint.

Doctors’ groups have also raised the alarm about provisions which would require practitioners to make a mandatory self-report if they are charged with any offence relating to scheduled medicines, no matter how minor.

Additionally, the updated law would include a line saying regulators’ “paramount principal” must be public safety, even above protection of doctors’ health.

“The impact of this on the livelihoods, mental health and indeed longevity of practice for doctors cannot be downplayed,” the AMA said in a submission last week.

“The constant state of fear doctors practice under – waiting for their turn to be the next one under the AHPRA microscope weighs heavily across our profession.”

Australia’s largest medical defence organisation Avant added: “A number of the proposals erode important rights of privacy and natural justice and procedural fairness.”

It said the proposals around AHPRA issuing pre-emptive public warnings were of particular concern, given the “significant risks of reputational damage” for doctors.

Relaxing the ban on testimonials was also fraught with risks, Avant argued.

The bill’s explanatory notes asserted the prohibition had become unnecessary and difficult to enforce, given that testimonials and reviews had become common online.

New forms of advertising, particularly on social media, had “blurred the lines” between information and marketing, while consumers increasingly expected access to reviews when choosing health services, it said.

“As a result of this amendment, testimonials will be treated the same as other forms of advertising,” the explanatory notes said.

Avant senior legal advisor Ruanne Brell called for education to be provided on legal and appropriate testimonials.

“If the amendment is passed, its enactment would ideally be delayed until AHPRA could update its advertising guidelines,” she said.

Nevertheless, doctors’ groups did welcome some of the proposed changes, including:

  • providing AHPRA with additional powers to act against fake doctors and unregistered practitioners
  • allowing the Medical Board of Australia to accept an undertaking from a health practitioner rather than imposing a condition on a practitioner’s registration
  • allowing the board to withdraw a practitioner’s registration if it was improperly obtained.
  • giving the board discretion to remove information about a practitioner from the public register if the publication presented a serious risk to their health and safety or that of their family.


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