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Marketing in the Health sector – your guide to the AHPRA guidelines

by Angela Harbinson
on 9 Nov, 2017 9 min read

The Health sector operates in a truly unique business environment. For most organisations, patient care is at the core of their focus and, like in any market, to have a sustainable business you need to plan your approach to adapt to the ongoing external environmental shifts, increasing competition and changing consumer expectations.


Marketing: How it can help create a successful health organisation

To be proactive in this fairly unpredictable market, it is essential to have a strategic approach. This is what we call a marketing strategy.

A marketing strategy can assist your organisation in the following ways:

  • Articulate your goals, values, visions and missions. This will help guide your organisation forward by providing clear, measurable metrics to achieve attainable growth.
  • Position your organisation in the market. This will help increase your competitive edge, play to your strengths and become a clinic of choice for your target audience.
  • Define your offerings. A strategy can help you extend or refine your core offerings. Clearly defining your offerings will also help you understand your organisations position in the market.
  • Attract and win over new patients. You can’t have a business without patients. To have a sustainable and successful organisation you will need to establish a strategy for attracting new patients and turning them into brand ambassadors.
  • Identify opportunities to build strong customer relationships. Customer retention is vital. Especially with the changing legislation where government funding now follows the patient. (e.g. the NDIS and Child Dental Benefit Scheme).
  • Acquire industry talent. A good strategy will help you identify tactics and methods for building your talent pool and winning over skilled professionals that will add value to your organisation.
  • Improve your patient’s experience. Reflecting on your customer journey can help identify new opportunities to improve every touch point with your brand. (e.g. clinic newsletters, emails, SMS reminders , online booking services).
  • Act as a golden standard. A set strategy can guide your internal team and help you make informed decisions ensuring your messaging aligns with your brand tone and every tactic is helping you to achieve your organisational goals.


The AHPRA Guidelines

Before you start creating a strategy, it is important to remember there are industry guidelines for marketing and advertising in the health sector. These are governed by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and are called the Guidelines for Advertising Regulated Health Services. Also known as the AHPRA Guidelines.

View the full AHPRA guidelines here


Why we need marketing guidelines in the health industry?

Advertising, when done right, can be a valuable tool to help educate and inform patients, letting them make informed decisions about their choice of healthcare provider. However, when advertising contains misleading or ambiguous claims or information, it can lead to the public engaging in risky services they don’t need. This is why we need regulations.

The AHPRA guidelines exist to protect consumers. If you are in the health industry, they act as a reference guide to show you how to ethically market, communicate and advertise information about your organisation.


Marketing within the AHPRA guidelines

With the increasing number of channels available to reach your audience and the rise in popularity of digital and social media, implementing a strategy and internal standards that adhere to the AHPRA guidelines is essential. Doing so will ensure your organisation avoids stepping outside the code of conduct. The AHPRA guidelines apply to all your digital channels, from your website to your social media platforms.

“With the increasing number of channels available to reach your audience and the rise in popularity of digital and social media, implementing a strategy and internal standards that adhere to the AHPRA guidelines is essential.”


While there are restrictions for what you can and can’t say, it doesn’t mean you should avoid marketing and/or advertising all together. The Health Sector is becoming increasingly competitive and if you avoid undertaking any marketing activities your organisation could begin losing out to the competition.

With the AHPRA guidelines, you need a well planned strategy that complies with the code and still allows you to achieve your business goals.

At Thirst Creative we work with many clients in the health industry, so we are familiar with the guidelines and how they are applied. Below we cover some AHPRA basics and tips for your business to adhere to the guidelines while effectively promoting and communicating with your audience. These include:

1. Your communications and the AHPRA guidelines
2. Your promotions and AHPRA guidelines
3. Your use of social media and AHPRA guidelines

Disclaimer: As a health clinic, it’s important to read and consider all guidelines that apply to you. This article is a quick overview covering some basics items in the AHPRA guidelines.


Other guidelines that apply:

It’s important to note that the health industry has a number of guidelines that apply, including:

  • The National Law (Advertising under section 133 and title and practice protections provisions under sections 113-120)
  • Australian Consumer Law
  • National Board Code of Conduct for registered health practitioners
  • The Therapeutic Goods Administration Guidelines (when selling products)


1. Your communications and the AHPRA guidelines

The content that you promote is affected by the AHPRA guidelines. In particular the way you approach your targeted key messaging.

Traditionally, developing key messages involves creating audience personas and identifying their major pain points. From here, you can identify how your business resolves these pain points and communicate this within your key messages. In the health industry, consumer pain points are often unique and personal. Therefore, ethically you can’t focus on these. For example you cannot communicate that you have a ‘magical solution’ or can ‘dramatically improve their life.’ In fact every claim you make needs to be factual and easily verifiable. It’s not easy to back up the above claims.

According to AHPRA, the content you produce must not be deceptive or misleading in any way. When it comes to communications, you must analyse and review the impressions your copy creates. If your copy does not directly say something but images imply it, it can be viewed as misleading or deceptive and this is something you need to be constantly monitoring.

Possible approaches:

Your key messages should focus on the care you provide for your patients and the benefits that they will receive from choosing your clinic. This may be extra services you offer such as bulk billing, reliable service, extended opening hours, an extensive referral network or the convenience of online bookings.

You need to ensure that any communications that you push out are clear and easy to interpret. Analyse your copy and understand what it is likely to mean to your target audience.

Developing a clear communications strategy will aid to act as an internal golden standard for all communications. It will become a useful tool for your staff and the development of your marketing messages, ensuring these messages are all consistent and adhere to the AHPRA guidelines.

To ensure your messages are visually communicated with accuracy, engage a graphic designer to create images for advertising and/or social media. This will ensure the overall impression of your ad is not misleading.


2. Your promotions and the AHPRA guidelines

Pricing promotions are restricted when it comes to health services. Any type of promotion that you use must have the Terms and Conditions clearly stated and your pricing information must be exact. It is against guidelines to feature deceptive pricing in your promotions. For example, you cannot say ‘first consultation free’ and then hike the price up of the second consultation to compensate the cost.

All promotional messages must be factual, credible and verifiable. If you are selling or promoting goods, you must also adhere to the Therapeutic Goods Administration guidelines, for correct terminology and clarity on providing procedure information.

AHPRA suggests that you cannot encourage indiscriminate or make unnecessary use of health services with prizes, bonuses or bulk discounts. This includes using phrases that create urgency like ‘don’t delay’, ‘look better and ‘feel more confident.’ and/or ‘achieve the look you want.’ You also need to avoid labelling offers as ‘limited’ time only’ as this will influence consumers to make a decisions about their treatments under pressure.

Possible approaches:

Again, if you’re pushing out promotional messages, ensure communications and images are clear and easy to interpret. When creating a communications strategy, include a section about policies for promotions that adhere to the AHPRA guidelines. Make sure your Terms and Conditions are easy to read and interpret.


3. Your use of social media and the AHPRA guidelines

On average, 69% of internet users have a social media profile and the proportion of businesses that use social media to directly reach their target audience is climbing.

For a health organisation, social media can be a great way to:

  • Run promotional activities
  • Communicate important clinic information (opening hours etc.)
  • Reach new patients
  • Show your clinic culture
  • Monitor health related articles and consumer trends
  • Attract talent (LinkedIn)

According to AHPRA the social media policy applies to both work-related and personal accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

You are responsible for all of the content on your social media accounts, even if you have not posted the information yourself.

When using social media as a health practitioner the National Law and National Board’s Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct apply. As do the guidelines for advertising regulated health services. This means that all posts must be within these guidelines and comply with confidentiality and privacy obligations (e.g. not posting pictures of procedures, case studies or other sensitive materials). Information in posts must be unbiased and from an evidence-based context.

Possible approaches:

Develop and use a communications strategy. This will act as a golden standard for any content published online. It will help to ensure all posts adhere to both the AHPRA guidelines and National Law. Develop an editorial calendar with approved content to ensure consistency.

A great idea is to use a social media posting software like Hootsuite. Here you can monitor your social accounts and schedule posts for the future.


Ready for action?

According to IBIS World, the competition within the health industry is intensifying and, in effect, marketing is becoming more important for health organistaions to master. There are many opportunities to increase your clinic’s ability to acquire new patients and build positive, loyal brand relationships. This is also true for attracting high quality talent to your clinic. If your organisation is ready to achieve more, give us a call.


Why we love working with the health sector

The Health Sector is an integral part of our community. As members of the community, we want to share the knowledge we have from working within this sector, and support health-orientated businesses who serve the greater good. This is why we’ve built a talented and experienced team who understand the complex nature of the industry and are able to meet the accessibility standards, legislation and individual community requirements for our clients.

Our team of designers, strategists and developers work with you to understand and realise your business goals. Using a balance of logic and creativity we create strategy-driven marketing initiatives that make you stand out, websites that deliver AA compliance accessibility standards and provide advice on how to navigate the guidelines yet still stand out and grow your practice in this digital age.

If you need help with your communications, marketing or digital projects, contact Thirst Creative.

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