Friday, February 28, 2014

Testify, sister!

Astute readers may have noticed that my last post mentioned three areas about which I am incensed enough to rant about. So here is my Number Two (and all of those who are giggling at the incidental scatalogical reference can stop now).

Throughout 2012-3 AHPRA has been conducting consultation in regards to new Guidelines for Social Media.One would think that this would be an area where extensive debate and discussion would ensue, with input from many experts. The blogosphere took off with criticism and comments, and one would hope that AHPRA paid attention to the online commentary as well as the formal submissions to their consultation process.

On Feb 17th this year AHPRA announced the implementation of new Guidelines to be rolled in from March 17th. The Social Media Policy is generally worded fairly well, and seems, at least to my eye, to be quite reasonable. It primarily warns practitioners to be careful when using social media and to uphold professional principles of confidentiality, impartiality, and ethical behaviour.

Along with the swag of updated guidelines is a new Advertising Guideline which essentially reinforces the current stance that testimonials of health services (ie a patient saying how great their doctor was, or how well their surgery went) is not appropriate and should not be used by health professionals in advertising or marketing. Nothing controversial there.

But these new guidelines go one step further. AHPRA has revamped its Social Media stance and incorporated this into the new Advertising Guidelines. Now not only is it unacceptable to use testimonials on your own website, but you cannot allow others to leave testimonials on your website, or other sites that you control. Furthermore, if you become aware of a testimonial (positive or negative) on a website you do not control then you must take reasonable steps to have that testimonial removed, or else you are liable to be fined under the National Act.

WTF? I am liable for a $5000 fine if someone else writes something about me on a third-party blog or rating site???

Social Media Champion Jill Tomlinson (whose is regularly attributed as being responsible for #Destroythejoint, a concept that I never fully understood, but then again I am not a twitterer, or tweeter, or twit, or twat, or whatever someone who uses Twitter should be called) has launched a solo campaign against these new guidelines with an Open Letter, published at Croakey.

If you think these guidelines are right on, then please let me know. If you think they are way off the mark, then don’t just let me know… let AHPRA know! Or the AMA, or your college, or the newspaper. Heck, you can even spread the word on this new fangled thing called Social Media.

New Advertising Guidelines - Social Media - Excerpts

6.2.3 Testimonials
Section 133 of the National Law states:
(1) A person must not advertise a regulated health service, or a business that provides a regulated health service, in a way that – 
(c) Uses testimonials or purported testimonials about the service or business
The National Law does not define ‘testimonial’, so the word has its ordinary meaning of a positive statement about a person or thing. In the context of the National Law, a testimonial includes recommendations, or statements about the quality of a regulated health service including clinical care, personal experiences of a regulated health service or about the benefits of a particular practitioner or regulated health service by someone who received the service. Testimonials can distort a person’s judgment in his or her choice of health practitioner. They may misrepresent the skills and or expertise of practitioners and create unrealistic expectations of the benefits such practitioners may offer health consumers. Testimonials in advertising include: 
  1. using or quoting testimonials on a website, such as patients posting comments about a practitioner on the practitioner’s business website, particularly when the website encourages patients to post comments and/or selectively publishes patient comments, and/or
  2. the use of patient stories to promote a practitioner or regulated health service.
There are a number of independent websites that invite public feedback/reviews about a patient’s experience of a regulated health practitioner, business and/or service. These websites are designed to help consumers make more informed decisions and increase transparency of interactions.
A review is not considered to be a testimonial or purported testimonial, in breach of section 133 (1)(c) of the National Law when it only comments on non-clinical issues, regardless of whether it is positive, negative or neutral.
Reviews must not contain statements about the quality of clinical care received from the regulated health practitioner, business and/or service.
A practitioner must take reasonable steps to have any testimonials associated with their health service or business removed when they become aware of them, even if they appear on a website that is not directly associated and/or under the direct control or administration of that health practitioner and/or their business or service.  This includes unsolicited testimonials. 
‘Reasonable steps’ include taking action in the practitioner’s power, such as directly removing, or requesting removal, of the testimonials. For example, a review on a social media site that states ‘Appointment ran very late and magazines were old’, is not considered a testimonial as it makes no reference to the clinical care provided by a regulated health practitioner, business or service. However, a review on the same social media site that states ‘Practitioner was quick to diagnose my illness and gave excellent treatment’, is a testimonial which references clinical care and is considered in breach of the National Law.
Once the practitioner becomes aware of the testimonial, they must take reasonable steps to have the testimonial removed (also refer to Section 7.1 on social media).

7.1 Social media
The National Law prohibits advertising in any way that uses testimonials or purported testimonials. Testimonials, or comments that may amount to testimonials, made on social media sites by patients or other people may contravene the National Law (refer to Section 6.2.3 of these guidelines for more information on testimonials).
Social media includes work related and personal pages on social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
A person is responsible for content on their social networking pages even if they were not responsible for the initial publication of the information or testimonial. This is because a person responsible for a social networking account accepts responsibility for any comment published on it, once alerted to the comment. Practitioners with social networking accounts should carefully review content regularly to make sure that all material complies with their obligations under the National Law.
These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Social media policy, published on National Boards’ websites.

Social media

‘Social media’ describes the online and mobile tools that people use to share opinions, information, experiences, images, and video or audio clips and includes websites and applications used for social networking. Common sources of social media include, but are not limited to, social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, blogs (personal, professional and those published anonymously), WOMO, True Local and microblogs such as Twitter, content sharing websites such as YouTube and Instagram, and discussion forums and message boards.

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