People have used social media testimonials to build entire surgery practices without any medical qualifications, a Queensland inquiry has been told. Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons president Daniel Kennedy told a parliamentary inquiry into proposed health practitioner laws that a ban on testimonials should not be lifted as part of the changes.
He said there have been many cases where unqualified individuals were caught using social media testimonials to promote themselves as health practitioners.
“Absolutely. There are very many examples of this, people who’ve built whole practices without qualifications, using social media using testimonials,” Dr Kennedy told the hearing on Wednesday.
“And there were some improvements in the situation. I think (it) was 2015 when these regulations came in. But nonetheless, it has gone on on those platforms that are more difficult to track and to watch like Snapchat and private chats, and several things that disappear or behind passworded, closed doors.”
The ASPS president said lifting a ban on national testimonials would be risky for patients and hard for authorities to regulate.
“I understand that this may come in. If it does, we just need to be cautious about how the enforcement goes on,” Dr Kennedy said.
“I do understand that there is a public appetite for it, but I would say you can’t choose your doctor on Yelp because it’s just not the same as buying a radio.”
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said removing the ban was a “bizarre proposal”.
He warned that testimonials – even when true – could be misleading, and agreed that regulation would be extremely difficult.
“Allowing testimonials will only make these problems worse and put the public at greater risk, rather than reducing that risk,” Dr Khorshid said.
However, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency said the public expects to access reviews and testimonials, including when choosing health services.
“This is happening in all walks of life and is at the heart of social media communication. It seems to us that on this issue, the train has left the station,” AHPRA chief executive Martin Fletcher said.
The proposed laws would apply to professionals registered under the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme.
Authorities would be able to issue community warnings when a doctor is under investigation, facing disciplinary proceedings or poses a risk to public health.
The public would also be warned of plastic surgeons who may expose patients to potential risks – a move strongly supported by Queensland Health Ombudsman Dr Lynne Barr.
“Given that the OHO frequently receives complaints about very serious conduct, it’s prudent for the Health Ombudsman to have the power to warn the public about a practitioner poses a serious risk,” Dr Barr said.
Unqualified practitioners would also be banned from providing health services or using a specific title while under investigation.
Regulators could strip a practitioner’s registration if it was found to be improperly obtained using false or misleading information.
Suspended practitioners will also have to apply to renew their registration under the proposed changes.
Original content from AAP. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.
Nina Alvarez is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel. Her interests include writing, particularly about the healthcare sector and the many ways it can improve to further benefit people from all walks of life.