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Advertising standard

A PDF version of this Standard can be downloaded here.

Introduction

The Physiotherapy Board (Board) recognises the value of physiotherapists informing the public about themselves and the services they provide. Advertising can provide an effective means of conveying useful information. ‘Advertising’ means any information published about a physiotherapist’s practice, including but not limited to, signage, corporate printing such as business cards, stationery, and social and print media such as websites, Facebook, LinkedIn and newspapers. Any information provided in an advertisement should be reliable and assist health consumers to make informed decisions about available services and health care choices.

Advertising can have adverse consequences for the public when it is false, inaccurate, misleading or deceptive, and can lead to the provision of inappropriate or unnecessary health services or create unrealistic expectations.

The purpose of this Standard is to protect the public from advertising that is false, misleading or deceptive[[i]] and to guide physiotherapists about the advertising of health- related products and services. This will support the appropriate use of health resources and ensure health consumers can make informed decisions about their health care[[ii]].

Law and advertising codes

Physiotherapists must be aware of and comply with New Zealand legislation and standards relevant to advertising including, without limitation, the Fair-Trading Act 1986, the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993, and the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights.

The Advertising Standards Code and the Therapeutic and Health Advertising Code published by the Advertising Standards Authority may also be relevant as they provide guidance as to good advertising practice.

 

1. Professional obligations

1.1.  Ethical standards

The Aotearoa New Zealand Physiotherapy Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct states:

» 6.1: Physiotherapists must provide truthful, accurate and relevant information and must not knowingly make misleading representations to health consumers and those legally entitled or authorised to receive information.

» 10.5: Physiotherapists must when engaged in advertising or promotion:

  • Claim only those titles and qualifications to which they are entitled and ensure that any perceived or actual misperceptions about qualifications are avoided and
  • Must not use any advertising methods and/or material that bring the profession into disrepute
  • Not engage in any conduct that is misleading as to the nature, characteristics, effectiveness, and/or suitability of any product, and/or service.

1.2  Consumer protection

Practitioners must not advertise in a manner that could be considered as an attempt to profit from or take advantage of limited consumer understanding. It is inappropriate for a physiotherapist to prejudge a health consumer’s ability to afford a particular treatment, or the value that a health consumer puts on any treatment.

1.3  Informed consent

Advertising should be accurate and informative and present information that assists consumers to make informed decisions about the services offered. However, advertising does not substitute for the requirement to obtain informed consent in each case in accordance with the specific requirements set out in the Informed consent standard.

1.4  Substantiation of claims

When advertising a service, a practitioner must be competent by reason of his or her education, training or experience to provide the service advertised or to act in the manner or professional capacity advertised. A practitioner must be certain that any claims made in advertising material can be substantiated by best available evidence. This is particularly important in the case of claims regarding outcomes of treatment, whether implied or explicit.

 

1.5  Comparative advertising

Comparative advertising is advertising that identifies one or more competing products, services, or service providers.

Comparisons made must:

  • be accurate and factual
  • clearly indicate what comparison is being made
  • compare like products or services
  • not denigrate competitors or competing products or services.

1.6  Authorising the content of advertising

Physiotherapists are responsible for the form and content of the advertising associated with their practice. Physiotherapists must not delegate this responsibility. A physiotherapist who holds responsibility for management or governance within a corporate organisation may be held responsible for any advertising published by that organisation.

Physiotherapists also have responsibility in situations in which they contribute information to media reports, magazine articles, ‘reality’ shows or advertorials. In such circumstances, physiotherapists are responsible for the comments they make and the information they provide.

1.7  Appropriate language and images

Language and images can convey powerful messages about physiotherapy practice that reflect on the physiotherapy profession. Care is needed with language and images used in advertising to ensure that they avoid unnecessary stereotyping and are culturally appropriate. Careful use should be made of models in a state of undress, images of skeletons or other graphical representations of the body, and images that could reasonably be deemed offensive by members of the public. Care should always be taken to obtain necessary copyright licences, and consents to use personal images and other personal information before publication.

1.8  Insurers and third-party payers

Physiotherapists must understand and comply with the requirements of insurers or third-party payers (including ACC) regarding advertising of services they fund. If those policies or recommendations are unclear, approval must be obtained from the party funding those services before any advertising is undertaken.

 

2. Advertising of professional qualifications and memberships

Advertising titles, professional qualifications or memberships may be useful to inform the public about experience and expertise of physiotherapists. References to professional qualifications should be limited to qualifications obtained from reputable institutions through examination or formal assessment. The use of titles and qualifications may be misleading or deceptive if health consumers can interpret the advertisements to infer that a physiotherapist is more skilled or has greater experience than is the case.

3. Testimonials[[iii]]

Advertisements must not unduly glamorise products or services or foster unrealistic expectations. Testimonials can create an unrealistic expectation of outcomes for individual health consumers and must not be used or quoted by physiotherapists in their advertising or on any websites, social media forums or any other platforms that advertise their services.

Physiotherapists must not encourage health consumers to leave testimonials on websites or other platforms that advertise them or their practice. Where health consumers or others publish testimonials about physiotherapists or their practice, the physiotherapists who are the subject of those testimonials must promptly take all steps available to them to remove such content once they become aware of it.

4. Discount coupons or gift certificates

Advertising using discount coupons or gift certificates must not undermine the physiotherapist’s relationship with the health consumer and the informed consent process. In particular, the physiotherapist providing the service must ensure that:

  • the health consumer understands that the purchase of the certificate or coupon does not amount to granting informed consent for any services that may be provided
  • the assessment and treatment is necessary and appropriate
  • before treatment, the health consumer understands the treatment options
  • the health consumer has the right to opt out of treatment at any time
  • the requested treatment is not provided if a proper assessment indicates that the health consumer is not a suitable candidate.

5. Consequences of breach of advertising requirements

Concerns about advertising should be notified to the Board. Where advertising appears to breach a code or law, the Board may refer complaints to another agency including the Health and Disability Commissioner or the Commerce Commission.

 

Related resources

Aotearoa New Zealand Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct Principles 6.1 and 10.5

 

Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service

 

Physiotherapy Practice thresholds for Australia & Aotearoa New Zealand (2015) Key competencies 2.1 and 3.1

Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights

Consumer Guarantees Act 1993

Fair Trading Act 1986

Medicines Act 1981

ASA Advertising Standards Code 2018

 

ASA Therapeutic and Health Advertising Code 2016

 

 

Issued: 26 July 2021

This statement is scheduled for review in 2026. Legislative changes may make this statement obsolete before this review date.

This document incorporates information from the Dental Council, and Medical Council of New Zealand’s Standards. We acknowledge the Dental Council and the Medical Council of New Zealand for their generosity in allowing us to use this information

[i] False, or misleading representation in advertising can also give rise to offences under the Fair Trading Act 1986, which upon conviction, can result in substantial fines not exceeding $200,000 in the case of an individual and $600,000 in the case of a body corporate.

 

[ii] As required by Right 6 of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights

 

[iii] ‘Testimonial’ means a recommendation or positive statement made by another person, for example, about a physiotherapist’s care, skill, expertise or treatment. Testimonials include expressions of appreciation or esteem, a character reference or a statement of the benefits received from the care provided. Testimonials are not limited to comments from health consumers but may also include feedback and endorsements from colleagues, other health care professionals, friends, whānau, family and other persons in the physiotherapist’s community or network

[1] False, misleading or deceptive advertising can also give rise to a breach of the Fair Trading Act 1986, which carries penalties in the order of $60,000 in respect of an individual and $200,000 in respect of a body corporate.
[2] As required by Right 6 of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights.
[3] Testimonial has its ordinary meaning of a recommendation or positive statement made by another person, for example, about a physiotherapist’s care, skill, expertise or treatment. Testimonials include expressions of appreciation or esteem, a character reference or a statement of the benefits received from the care provided. Testimonials are not limited to comments from patients but may also include feedback and endorsements from colleagues, other health care professionals, friends, whānau, family and other persons in the physiotherapist’s network.
[4] You must not encourage patients to leave testimonials on websites, or other platforms you control that advertise your or your practice’s services, nor should you encourage patients to submit testimonials about your or your practice’s services to third party websites. It is your responsibility to monitor regularly the contents of such websites or platforms and to remove any testimonials that are posted there. However, you are not responsible for any unsolicited testimonials or comments that are published on a website, in social media or other forms of media over which you do not have control.