Background: Society expects professionals to promote their businesses in an ethical manner, refraining from misleading or deceptive marketing due to the potential to harm members of the community. In Australia this expectation resides in the Australian registration board advertising guidelines or the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law. Registration board data indicate there are many health care professionals failing to meet these expectations. The aims of this research were to determine the frequency, type and nature of at-risk advertising by Australian chiropractors and physiotherapists and whether there is a correlation between professional association membership and advertising guideline compliance.
Method: A cross sectional audit examining practitioner advertising was performed on representative samples of Australian chiropractors and physiotherapists. Two auditors examined advertising by 380 physiotherapists and 359 chiropractors for material potentially in breach of the regulatory authorities’ advertising guidelines. The advertising appeared on practitioner websites and linked Facebook pages.
Results: Two-hundred and fifty-eight (72%) audited chiropractors and 231 (61%) audited physiotherapists had breaches of the Advertising Guidelines on their websites and linked Facebook pages. The frequency of breaches by chiropractors was higher. The type and nature of the breaches by chiropractors was potentially more harmful. Membership in a professional association influenced neither the frequency nor the severity of breaches with chiropractors.
Discussion: Advertising breaches were common in both samples even though regulators and professional associations provide practitioners with explicit information on how to comply with advertising guidelines. Breaches by chiropractors were more numerous and more serious due to their greater potential to lead consumers to make inappropriate and potentially harmful healthcare decisions.
Stronger enforcement strategies may have a positive effect on compliance.
Author keywords: Chiropractor — Physiotherapist — Advertising breaches — Misleading and deceptive conduct
Author affiliation: Murdoch University, School of Chiropractic, Murdoch, Australia
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