Testimonials

Testimonials not permitted under the Code of Ethics

Testimonials and national registration

What about case histories?

What about case reports in journals?

Testimonials used in complaints

What can be done?

What to tell your patients

Testimonials not permitted under the Code of Ethics

 

The use of patient testimonials continues to be a contentious issue with some members of the profession.

Members are reminded that the use of testimonials and purported testimonials are not permitted by any registered health profession and are not permitted under the AACMA Codes of Ethics and Conduct.

The AACMA Code of Conduct places testimonials under the broader heading of Advertising and the Media and is unambiguous in its wording.

5. Advertising and the media
(g) Do not use testimonials in advertisements.

The main purpose of testimonials is to use patient personal/ health information to promote positive images about the services being provided in order to encourage members of the public to seek the services of the practitioner.

The primary concerns about the use of testimonials are that they are not able to be tested or challenged by third parties and any consent that may have been given at one point in time is not necessarily continuing consent. Patients may feel pressured to agree or may not feel able to remove consent once given. Testimonials purporting to be from de-identified sources (e.g. XY. From Surry Hills) are not acceptable. Fake testimonials are also unacceptable and may amount to false advertising.

The other factor is that testimonials only show the positive outcomes – it is highly unlikely that any practitioner would use testimonials that showed negative or undesirable outcomes from services provided at the practice. Many prospective patients are vulnerable and may be swayed by advertising that may give an unrealistic expectation of beneficial treatment.

Marketing advisers often stress that the best form of marketing is the use of testimonials. That may be OK for many goods and services but NOT for health services.

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Testimonials and national registration

The use of testimonials or purported testimonials will also be illegal under the national registration scheme and can result in fines of up to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a body corporate.

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What about case histories?

Members often ask if patient case histories can be used, with the consent of the patient, because they are written by the practitioner not the patient. Case histories are simply patient testimonials in another form. Their use and purpose is the same as patient testimonials – the use of patient personal and health information to promote the practice. The same concerns about consent apply to case histories as for patient testimonials.

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What about case reports in journals?

It is appropriate to publish case histories in an academic journal, preferably in a peer-reviewed journal such as the Australian Journal of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (AJACM). Under these conditions, case histories are subjected to independent review by experts in the field and are required to meet rigorous standards of language, format and presentation and quality. Case reports, in these circumstances, are intended to be shared with other practitioners in the field and contribute to the knowledge base of the profession and hopefully will assist in improving the clinical skills of other practitioners. Patient consent should be obtained before submitting a Case Report or Case Series to an academic journal.

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Testimonials used in complaints

Some members provide patient testimonials as evidence of their ethical conduct and practice when there is a complaint about them to AACMA. Patient testimonials do not assist the practitioner in proceedings before the AACMA Disciplinary Committee. The same concerns about the use of patient testimonials in advertising apply to the use of patient testimonials in complaints. Patients may feel pressured to provide the testimonials. Many complaints involve a blurring of the line between the practitioner and patient and seeking on from patients not involved in the complaint further blurs that line. In some cases, providing patient testimonials may act as evidence that the practitioner is failing to understand professional boundaries. See also the CMRBV Advice on using testimonials and evidence from patients and clients here.

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What can be done?

Practitioners should focus on positive statements about their practice that are able to be tested or challenged by patients based on their experience with the practice.

The Appendix to the AACMA Code of Ethics makes the following comment:

Third Party Endorsements (Testimonials)
The issue of the use of third party endorsements (testimonials) was also raised during the review. The AACMA Board is opposed to the use of testimonials as they are not able to tested or challenged. Practitioners should focus on positive statements about their practice that are able to be tested or challenged by patients. Examples are: “In XYZ clinic, our patients are treated as individuals. The attention to detail and extra care we take with our health care is what makes us so popular”, rather than a testimonial which might say “John Smith’s attention to detail and extra care really made me feel my health needs were being met”. Interviews of consenting patients by a third party (such as a journalist) as part of an article about your practice are acceptable, so long as the patients consent to the release of their personal and health information.

Clause 5 of the AACMA Code Conduct reads:

5. Advertising and the media
(a) Advertising should not bring the profession into disrepute.
(b) Ensure that all advertisements are accurate to the best of your knowledge and belief.
(c) Confine advertising of professional services to the presentation of information reasonably needed by patients or colleagues to make an informed decision about the availability and appropriateness of your services.
(d) Exercise caution in endorsing any particular commercial goods, devices or services.
(e) Do not use the association name in any advertising or promotion of any commercial goods/devices or training program without the express written consent of the association.
(f ) Advertising should not denigrate, belittle or bring into disrepute any other person, profession or treatment.
(g) Do not use testimonials in advertisements.
(h) When communicating with the media do not hold yourself out to represent the association, or its position on an issue, unless you are explicitly authorised by the association to do so.

The Chinese Medicine Registration Board Australia provides advertising guidelines for practitioners which AACMA strongly suggests members read.

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What to tell your patients

Your patients or potential patients may enquire about testimonials. This section may also be useful for your personal website - feel free to copy and paste the content below.

If I can’t rely on Testimonials, how do I choose a practitioner?

1.   Look for practitioners in your area by searching on the website of the peak professional association for Chinese medicine practitioners in Australia www.acupuncture.org.au

  • Check the practitioner’s accredited modalities (Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine or Chinese Remedial Massage) on the association’s website to make sure they can provide the services you require.
  • Ask friends and relatives for their recommendations and again check they are listed practitioners on the association’s website www.acupuncture.org.au

2.   Check with your health fund

  • Contact your health fund and check the practitioner is registered with the fund for the services they are offering.

3.   Google the practitioner

  • Google will not only show you their publications (if any), it will also give an idea of their involvement in their profession.
  • If they have a website then many of the questions posed above will probably be answered from that site as well.
  • Any negative news stories may also be revealed.

4.   Call the Practitioner

  • Many practitioners are happy to have a brief phone call before making an appointment.
  • This is a good way to decide if this practitioner understands your condition.
  • It is also an opportunity for the practitioner to direct you so someone else if your situation is outside of their scope of practice.

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