When you advertise your services on your website or in your practice it is important to comply with the advertising guidelines promulgated in 2014 by the Optometry Board of Australia
OBA Guidelines for Advertising
Your advertising should not:
1 Be false, misleading or deceptive
2 Offer gifts or inducements (unless the terms and conditions are stated)
3 Use testimonials
4 Promise unrealistic treatment benefits, by using words like “cure, safe, effective…”
5 Encourage unnecessary use of Medicare services
In a communique in June 2015 the Optometry Board clarified the Guidelines as follows:
“Use of the term specialities in title descriptors for optometrists
Under the National Law, there is no specialist registration for optometry and the title ‘specialist’ is restricted. It is therefore unlawful for optometrists to call themselves specialists or imply that they are specialists in their advertising. The specialist titles recognised under the National Law only relate to medical, dental or podiatric specialists. All registered optometrists can use the title ‘optometrist’ in their advertising. It is also acceptable to list credentials and recognised qualifications in advertising. It is not acceptable to claim specialisation or use words such as ‘specialist’, ‘specialty’ or ‘specialise’ (or any other words deriving from ‘special’) as it may give the impression that an optometrist is a specialist in a particular area, which is contrary to the advertising provisions of the National Law. However, an optometrist could reasonably say they have an ‘interest’, ‘experience’ or ‘predominantly practise’ in an area of practice.”
So the phrases:
- We specialise in….
- The optometrists have special expertise….
- Our specialties include…
- The optometrists have special experience in….
- Specialty expertise in…..
should not be used in your letterheads, pamphlets or website.
“However, an optometrist could reasonably say they have an ‘interest’, ‘experience’ or ‘predominantly practice in an area of practice.”
Testimonials from patients or referrers are considered by the Guidelines to imply superiority, and should be removed from your website. Attached is a handy Provision guide which removes testimonials from Facebook websites . However, you are not responsible for reviews of you or your services on other websites “not owned, operated or controlled by the practice or practitioner referred to in the comments” such as Google.
As ACBO is a not-for-profit organisation, and not a health professional, the ACBO website can contain testimonials for behavioural optometry care; we have removed any optometrists’ names, so there is no recommendation of a particular optometrist.
Optometry Australia has strongly conveyed to ACBO Board their interpretation of the Optometry Board Guidelines, that optometrists can advertise the services they provide, such as behavioural optometry or orthokeratology or low vision, but should not call themselves behavioural optometrists or orthokeratologists or low vision specialists. While this may seem a fine exercise in semantics, the interpretation is that calling yourself an …..ist implies superiority or specialisation, for which there is no legal support other than in medicine, dentistry and podiatry.
It does not matter if your patients or referrers refer to you as a “behavioural optometrist”, under the guidelines as they stand your advertising should refer to the services you provide, such as “predominantly practice (see other words above) in behavioural optometry”, or “our practice offers/provides behavioural optometry services/care”.
Evidence for advertised services
The OBA media release states: "If you do not understand whether the claims you have made can be substantiated based on acceptable evidence, then remove them from your advertising". The ACBO Board has been very active in developing research evidence for many areas of behavioural optometry practice, for more information see below.
Essentially your advertising should refer to services which have a strong evidence basis, as people looking at your website for instance, do not have the knowledge to understand whether a service is scientifically valid.
However, in day to day practice you can offer a service, test or treatment which is less well researched, by explaining the benefits and any risks, so a patient can make an informed consent to treatment.
This discussion may seem to be very restrictive and confusing, but once you work through the principles it should become clear as to what is acceptable in your advertising.
The AHPRA website provides further information: