One small tweet – but one huge step.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) is finally showing signs of “getting social”.

Not only has it listened to the Twitter-storm  of concern about guidelines affecting social media commentary about regulated health professionals, it is engaging in the Twitterverse via @AHPRA.

Tune in at 12 noon on Friday – more details here – for a Twitter chat with AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher using the hashtag #ahpraqanda.

AHPRA says:

“The #ahpraqanda chat is an opportunity for health practitioners, members of the community, employers of health practitioners and other stakeholders to engage with us to discuss what the obligations and requirements are for health practitioners’ use of social media.

The chat will discuss both how practitioners can positively use social media, as well as what AHPRA expects of practitioners, including when advertising or promoting regulated health services through social media platforms.”

If you can’t make the chat, AHPRA will archive the discussions here.

Consumer health advocate Anne Cahill Lambert will be following the discussions closely. While AHRPA’s announcement, as per the tweet below, has addressed some of her concerns about restrictions on patient testimonials, she also highlights broader issues about lack of consultation with consumers.


The three P’s – Protecting or Patronising Patients

Anne Cahill Lambert writes:

I was alerted recently to the planned introduction of the new codes of conduct and guidelines issued by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency  (AHPRA) relating to advertising and use of social media.

The Agency has a noble core role, as enunciated on p. 2 of its social media policy, of “protecting the public”.  These policies and guidelines were developed, according to the preamble of the published documents, by the national boards that comprise AHPRA.

I applaud AHPRA for its work in ensuring that the public is safe with appropriately qualified health practitioners.  But, it has a fair way to go in developing workable policies that include the views of consumers, particularly in the social media arena.

PLM (people like me) strive to encourage health care professionals to use the interweb thingamy, including social media.  It’s here to stay and the rest of the world uses it.

I believe that AHPRA’s code and guidelines would have been a bridge too far and taken Australia back to the dim dark ages before the internet and other clever technology.  Here’s why.

Requiring health practitioners to have positive testimonials removed from Facebook, Twitter or wherever it has appeared is out of touch with how the community is using social media.

Many patients prefer to thank their health practitioners the fastest way they can, generally not via snail mail.  They want others to know about good experiences.  The rules would have stymied a patient’s right to free speech and expression.

And whether AHPRA likes it or not, patients will look to other patients for positive stories in selecting practitioners.  They (the patients) are much more discerning, I think, than AHPRA gives them credit.  They will look to Facebook and Twitter and other social media websites.

But my major gripe here is the consultation process.  Sure there are some consumer representatives on the various boards that comprise AHPRA.  But there was no concerted effort to consult in a focussed way with consumers who, apparently, are to be protected.

I have been told that AHPRA issued a discussion paper and called for submissions on its website.  I haven’t found anywhere else where the call was advertised and I hope it was circulated more broadly than its website.

Irrespective, it did not receive any submissions from consumer groups, so my alarm bells are already ringing.  Genuine consumer participation is sometimes difficult.  But it should not be dismissed out of hand because of its difficulty.

I would suggest that because there were no submissions from consumer groups, there is a gap in the way AHPRA has approached the task.

In a Twitter exchange, AHPRA tells me it is looking to extend its community engagement process to complement its Community Reference Group.  Too late, I say!  When I looked at the details of AHPRA’s Community Reference Group, there is no record of that Group having discussed the policy and guidelines.

I find it insulting that, however well meaning, some in the health sector decide that they will “protect the public” without actually engaging them and asking them how they want to be protected.

It is one thing to introduce a process to ensure that health practitioners are appropriately qualified and experienced.  It is another to hold a practitioner to account for the free speech of patients.

I hope some sense comes to bear on this matter.  In the meantime, enjoy this tweet below.


• Anne Cahill Lambert, AM, has much to say on a range of matters including consumer participation.  She has a Bachelor’s degree in health management and a Masters in public administration.  She’s on twitter:  @ACLambert

• See AHPRA Action blogs on related topics

Previously at Croakey

A win for doctors

Testing social media landscape with advertising guidelines


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