Updated guidelines and code of conduct, and a new social media policy, came into effect for all dental practitioners this week. The revised codes, guidelines and policy explain the National Board’s expectations of practitioners and have been designed to improve awareness, understanding and compliance.
Practitioners need to know and understand these documents to ensure their practice meets National Board expectations. The National Board released the content of these documents on 13 February on its website, so that practitioners could familiarise themselves before the requirements take effect.
The revised guidelines around advertising and social media—particularly around the issue of testimonials—has been the subject of much discussion and concern over the past couple of years, with some practitioners expressing concern that previous guidelines hadn’t kept up with the worlds of social media and online communications.
Speaking in an interview in Bite magazine last year, ADA President Dr Karin Alexander agreed that a restriction on testimonials—which has been reiterated in the new guidelines—is difficult to police when it comes to third-party websites. “It is a little bit of a grey area with social media, as the dentist may not know that a patient is writing a testimonial or putting up a comment. There is word-of-mouth referral already—that’s how a lot of us get our business—but there’s a difference between a patient saying someone is a nice dentist, which is kind of just conversational, and testimonials where the patient makes claims about the dentist’s abilities.”
AHPRA published a consultation paper containing a proposed social media policy and amendments to its advertising guidelines. “The ADA did make a submission and basically we agreed with most of the Dental Board’s guidelines in keeping it restricted,” says Dr Alexander.
“Dentistry is not a commodity, it’s a professional health service, and as such dentists should act professionally and ethically in terms of how they advertise. We have already got ways of advertising—it needs to be factual, correct, it shouldn’t denigrate anyone else or make outrageous claims.”
In its submission to AHPRA, the ADA did query where the line is drawn when it comes to third-party websites. “If a patient does write up a testimonial and a dentist is not aware of it, the Board hasn’t really explained the dentist’s obligations to prevent this happening,” says Dr Alexander. “If it’s on the dentist’s own website, that’s definitely overstepping the mark. But you can’t keep your eye on everyone. It’s difficult to police and we don’t have a way of influencing third-party sites or asking them to take testimonials down. Dentists need to know the reasonable steps to take. The situation is clear cut where it’s your own website. It’s a simple thing of keeping them off.”
The Guidelines for advertising regulated health services, Guidelines for mandatory notifications and Social media policy were developed jointly by the 14 National Boards in the National Scheme and apply to all registered health professions in Australia.
The Code of conduct for dental practitioners is shared by most regulated health professions.