Ahpra Compliance for Doctors and Other Health Practitioners

From 1 July 2023, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) will be enforcing their new cosmetic surgery practice guidelines and advertising guidelines for medical practitioners.

These new rules are in addition to their existing strict regulations that govern what all health practitioners can and cannot say in their advertising material, including text and images on websites, printed and electronic media, social media channels and any patient testimonials. 

So how can doctors and other healthcare practitioners market their services to their target audience while still remaining compliant with Ahpra’s new guidelines?

Understanding the existing Ahpra compliance rules

AHPRA guidelines are designed to protect the public and manage risks by ensuring that health practitioners don’t make false, misleading or deceptive claims in advertising a medical practice, as this does not allow patients to make informed choices based on all the evidence.

The existing Ahpra compliance rules fall under Section 133 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, which states:

“A person must not advertise a regulated health service or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that:

  • is false, misleading or deceptive or is likely to be misleading or deceptive, or
  • offers a gift, discount or other inducement to attract a person to use the service or the business, unless the advertisement also states the terms and conditions of the offer, or
  • uses testimonials or purported testimonials about the service or business, or
  • creates an unreasonable expectation of beneficial treatment, or
  • directly or indirectly encourages the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of regulated health services.”

What are the new Ahpra cosmetic surgery compliance rules?

The new cosmetic surgery practice compliance rules fall under section 39 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law and have been developed to: “address the unique features of cosmetic surgery that are not present in many other areas of medical practice and the specific risks involved with cosmetic surgery advertising”.

The new cosmetic surgery rules cover and include:

  • Listing of the risks and complications of cosmetic surgery
  • The way before and after photographs are used
  • Correct use of shapes and emojis on photos
  • Not creating unreasonable expectations for surgery results
  • Avoiding false, misleading or deceptive advertising
  • Outlining risks and recovery times of surgical procedures
  • Identifying adult content on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok
  • The use of music on any videos
  • Restrictions on the use of specific terms, such as “hot”, “younger”, “perfect” or “risk-free”

Which procedures do the new Ahpra cosmetic surgery rules apply to?

The new Ahpra cosmetic surgery practice guidelines and advertising guidelines apply to:

  • Surgery and procedures that “revise or change the appearance, colour, texture, structure or position of normal bodily features with the dominant purpose of achieving what the patient perceives to be a more desirable appearance.”
  • Cosmetic surgery that involves cutting beneath the skin – breast augmentation, abdominoplasty, rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty, surgical face lifts, cosmetic genital surgery, and liposuction and fat transfer.
  • Cosmetic procedures that do not involve cutting beneath the skin but may involve piercing the skin – cosmetic injectables, dermal fillers (also known as soft tissue fillers), fat dissolving injections, thread lifts, sclerotherapy and microsclerotherapy, CO2 laser skin resurfacing, cryolipolysis (fat freezing), laser hair removal, dermabrasion, chemical peels and hair transplants.

These new Ahpra cosmetic surgery guidelines only apply to plastic surgery when it is performed only for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons. They do not apply to reconstructive surgery, gender affirmation surgery or mole removal for the purposes of appearance.

What type of health practitioners need to ensure they are AHPRA compliant?

Ahpra keeps a list of every health practitioner who is registered to practise in Australia on their ‘Register of practitioners’.

ALL health practitioners need to be Ahpra compliant, including the professions listed below.

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practices
  • Chinese Medicine
  • Chiropractic
  • Dental practice
  • Medical practice (doctors)
  • Medical radiation practice
  • Nursing
  • Midwifery
  • Occupational therapy
  • Optometry
  • Osteopathy
  • Paramedicine
  • Pharmacy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Podiatry
  • Psychology
  • Medical specialists
  • Surgeons

The new Aphra cosmetic surgery practice compliance rules apply to ALL registered medical practitioners who perform cosmetic surgery and/or non-surgical cosmetic procedures, including medical practitioners who prescribe cosmetic injectables for them to be administered by another person.

What happens if you’re not Ahpra compliant?

Being in breach of the AHPRA guidelines is a criminal offence, so if you’re not compliant there can be very serious consequences for both you and your medical practice.

And regardless of who has breached the regulations, it is the registered health practitioner who is liable for the breach, even if you don’t mean to breach the guidelines or you were unaware that you had breached the guidelines.

Consequences can include fines of up to $120,000 and having restrictions placed on your health practitioner registration, which may even affect your ability to practise.

Need help with ensuring your advertising and website are Ahpra compliant?

Ahpra’s monitoring and compliance team continually monitors the way all health practitioners promote their business and services.

They have also now informed medical practitioners that they plan to use AI or bots to trawl through websites and social media accounts to check for use of forbidden words, images and breaches of the compliance rules.

At Total Medical Design we’ve worked with many medical practitioners to ensure their advertising and websites comply with all AHPRA Advertising Guidelines while still connecting with their ideal patients.

Ahpra Guidelines – Visual Examples of Cosmetic Surgery Advertising