Lifting ban on patient testimonials in advertising will risk public safety

8th Jun 2022

Lifting the current ban on patient testimonials being used in health services advertising will expose the public to preventable dangers and risk public safety, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“It is imperative for public safety that the current ban on using testimonials in health services advertising remains in force,” said Ms Lidia Monteverdi, lawyer and spokesperson for the ALA, giving evidence today at the inquiry into the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022.  

“We are already very concerned about some of the promotional practices we have observed in the cosmetic procedures industry.  The regulation of cosmetic procedure advertising has not kept pace with the huge growth in the industry and relaxing the current rules will only make it more difficult for potential patients to make informed decisions.

“Too often people choose to undergo a cosmetic procedure, and decide which practitioner to use, without all the relevant information. Allowing practitioners to use testimonials in their advertising will only exacerbate the problem.

“Unlike advertising consumer goods, there is the real potential for devastating consequences to result from the influence of a testimonial on an individual’s decision to undertake an elective medical procedure. These cosmetic procedures inherently include an element of risk, can be painful and invasive and are often designed to be permanent.”

In its submission to the inquiry, the ALA stated that health services advertising containing testimonials will present prospective patients with a skewed view on specific procedures and / or particular practitioners. This may not reflect the experience of every patient with that practitioner, in part or even at all; but lifting a ban on the use of testimonials has the potential to allow practitioners to present a skewed perspective to prospective patients.

“We are very concerned about the increasing numbers of people who are injured as a result of elective cosmetic procedures. So many times, these individuals have been strongly influenced by advertising, primarily on social media, and have decided to have a procedure without being fully aware of the risks and the complexity of the surgery,” said Ms Monteverdi. “The use of testimonials may induce a patient to undergo a particular procedure based on someone else's outcome and thus have an inflated sense of confidence or expectation as to the outcome of the procedure. This is especially so for cosmetic procedures.

“The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency already has finite resources to investigate compliance with advertising regulations and the solution is not to relax the current regulations, as the Bill proposes to do. This will expose the public to preventable dangers and would be a risk to public safety.”

The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 also includes an amendment which will increase penalties for advertising offences from $5,000 to $60,000 for individuals and from $10,000 to $120,000 for body corporates.

“We welcome this amendment and urge the regulator to take a proactive approach to managing compliance with advertising rules,” said Ms Monteverdi. “We encourage the adoption of these measures, should the Bill pass independent of whether the final version of the Bill also allows for the use of testimonials.”

Read the ALA’s full submission here.

Tags: Health, medicine and law Cosmetic