Humans are social creatures and tend to be influenced by other people’s opinions and experiences. That’s why you’ll probably check the reviews before choosing a new restaurant or booking a holiday home.
Patients are no different. Choosing a healthcare practitioner can be an important decision. If a patient is living with a long-term health problem, they may be trusting you with their care repeatedly over the coming years.
To inform their decision, patients are likely to Google you and check your social media accounts. And if there’s a lovely review from a grateful patient praising your skills and describing how much you helped them, then a prospective patient may well decide to book with you.
You’ve gained a patient. But you’ve also breached AHPRA’s advertising regulations and could face serious penalties.
What’s the problem with testimonials?
AHPRA does not allow regulated health services or businesses providing them to use testimonials because they may conflict with the public’s right to accurate, honest information about healthcare.
As we’ve shown above, testimonials are influential. We’ve all been swayed by them when booking other services. And while that may be fine for dining out or choosing a holiday spot, it’s problematic for something as important as healthcare. There’s a risk of creating harmful effects, such as unreasonable expectations of beneficial treatment or misleading/deceptive information.
As AHPRA explains,
Testimonials are prohibited in advertising a regulated health service because:
- they are often personal opinions and may have no objective basis for recommending a registered health practitioner or health service
- the outcomes experienced by one patient do not necessarily reflect the outcome, or likely outcome available to all patients
- they can be misleading as they are not usually a balanced source of information (they often include a selection of positive comments about experiences and do not tell the whole story), and/or
- the public may not have expert knowledge to assess if the information is accurate.
What counts as a testimonial?
Any comment about clinical aspects of care counts as a testimonial – and will therefore be non-compliant.
That includes patient stories, patient experiences, success stories, direct comments from patients or fake testimonials.
AHPRA deems that ‘a clinical aspect’ exists if there’s any mention of:
- Symptoms or reasons for seeking treatment
- The practitioner’s diagnosis or treatment
- Outcomes, including the skills and experience of the practitioner.
Example of a non-compliant testimonial that discusses clinical aspects of care
|X||Dr Jones was amazing – so much better than other docs I’ve seen. After taking my medication for a few days, I’m finally able to sleep for the first time in many months. Thanks so much for the help. I feel sooooo much better!|
What is it safe for patients to say in reviews?
AHPRA is comfortable with patient reviews that do not mention clinical aspects of care, such as positive comments about:
- Customer service
- Communication style.
Example of a compliant review that praises non-clinical aspects of care
|✔||Easy parking, friendly reception staff and I love all the plants and sunlight in the waiting area.|
What does AHPRA hold you responsible for?
If you have control of the advertising, then AHPRA holds you responsible for any testimonials or reviews published on it.
That includes your website and your social media accounts.
According to AHPRA,
An advertiser has control of the advertising if:
- they publish or authorise content or direct someone to publish or draft content (including a third party, staff member or marketing agency), or
- there is a mechanism for the advertiser to modify or remove content published by an unrelated publisher.
That said, AHPRA does not expect you to control the whole internet. It recognises that you cannot control third-party sites. However, it does hold you responsible for anything you post in reply to a third-party review. And if you share a review on a third-party site to your own socials or website, then you could be breaching your compliance obligations.
|Testimonials and reviews||Who’s responsible||Platform||What should you do?|
|…that you publish or republish||You are||Your website||Only publish reviews about non-clinical aspects of care|
|…that you publish or republish||You are||Your social media accounts||Ideally, disable the reviews/testimonials function if possible (often in your privacy settings).|
Only publish reviews about non-clinical aspects of care – you must remove non-compliant reviews or ask the patient to do so.
|…that appear on third-party sites that also advertise health services||The owner of the site (though you are responsible for any advertising you post here)||Bookings or review platforms||Ensure any advertising you post here is compliant. |
Ask the site owner to remove non-compliant testimonials.
Don’t like, respond to or republish non-compliant reviews.
|…on third-party sites that don’t advertise health services||Not you||Service directories, review platforms, social media platforms belonging to others, discussion forums||Nothing. Do not engage. |
You are not responsible for testimonials on platforms you cannot control or that are not advertising health services.
You are responsible for any response you make such as liking or commenting.
What about reviews on Facebook, Instagram and Google?
Here’s what we recommend:
- Facebook – disable the review function
- Prevention is better than cure, right? Disabling the review function prevents patients leaving a non-compliant review and saves you the trouble of constantly monitoring your accounts
- Instagram –
- Google – don’t engage
- You can’t switch Google reviews off so AHPRA does not hold you responsible for them
- But you are responsible for anything you post in response – keep your fingers away from the keyboard and DO NOT RESPOND.
How to turn AHPRA’s restrictions to your advantage
You work hard to deliver exceptional care and may feel understandably frustrated at not being allowed to share the positive feedback you receive.
You can turn those rules to your advantage though. After all, patient acquisition isn’t the only thing that matters. Patient retention is immensely important. And it’s often far cheaper to retain an existing patient than gain a new one.
As Forbes notes,
New patients present several uncertainties in terms of how long they will continue with your practice, their expectations, etc., all of which will have already been determined for your existing patients.
Let’s say a patient, Barbara, is delighted with the care you’ve provided. She can’t leave a review on your Facebook page (you’ve disabled that function) so she heads to Google and leaves a gushing – and thoroughly non-compliant – review praising your clinical care in great detail.
Now, you can’t respond to the Google review. But you can call Barbara and thank her for her positive feedback. You can explain that your registration restrictions prevent you from replying to her Google review but that you greatly appreciate the compliment and are glad she’s doing well.
You can bet that, by the end of that call, Barbara is even more pleased with you. You’ve deepened your relationship with her and cemented her loyalty to your practice. The call took you just a few minutes but means you’ve retained a loyal patient. Barbara may not post her reviews online anymore but you can be sure she’ll recommend you to her friends and family.
How can Splice Marketing help?
Splice Marketing is a specialised healthcare marketing agency. We’re skilled at running creative campaigns that express your practice’s personality and values within AHPRA’s advertising regulations.
That includes managing your online reputation to help you gain and retain patients. We love helping healthcare practices thrive.
If you’d like to explore how we could help you, please book your free 30-minute consultation.
- Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, Testimonials: Understand the requirements, https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Resources/Advertising-hub/Resources-for-advertisers/Testimonial-tool.aspx#, [Accessed 28 September 2023]
- Forbes, Patient acquisition vs. retention: which is more important for healthcare businesses? https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2022/07/14/patient-acquisition-vs-retention-which-is-more-important-for-healthcare-businesses/?sh=7d9555a6419c, [Accessed 28 September 2023]