The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency's (AHPRA) advice was provided in the context of discussions about the titles usable by surgeons who are not registered ‘specialist plastic surgeons’ but who undertook surgery of an aesthetic and reconstructive nature. The advice is provided below. The examples provided reflect this context, but the interpretation of how the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (the National Law) applies, is not limited to this context.
Essentially, if you advertise yourself with a title which is not the specialty title which you hold according to your registration, you should be careful that there is no risk that people could be misled or deceived into thinking that you hold another specialty title that you do not hold. Doing so may breach the National Law’s prohibition on the advertising of a regulated health service ‘in a way that is false, misleading or deceptive, or is likely to be misleading or deceptive.’
The advice provided by AHPRA in this regard is as follows:
‘The COAG Health Council approved a list of specialties, fields of specialty practice and related specialist titles pursuant to s.13 of the National Law on 27 March 2018, which took effect from 1 June 2018. A copy of the list can be found on the Medical Board website.
That list includes the approved specialty of “plastic surgery” with the associated specialist title of “Specialist plastic surgeon”. Section 118 of the National Law provides that a person who is not a specialist health practitioner (i.e. registered in a recognised specialty) must not take a title or description that indicates or could be reasonably understood to indicate the person is a specialist health practitioner or hold themselves out as registered in a recognised speciality if they are not registered in that specialty. This means that only those medical practitioners who are registered in the recognised specialty of plastic surgery may lawfully call themselves, or be described by others as, a plastic surgeon.
Section 119 of the National Law provides that a registered health practitioner must not hold themselves out as holding specialist registration in a recognised specialty if the person does not hold specialist registration in that specialty. It is not a criminal offence for a registered health practitioner to contravene section 119 but it may constitute behaviour for which health, conduct or performance action may be taken.
Section 133 of the National Law provides that a person must not advertise a regulated health service in a way that is false, misleading or deceptive, or is likely to be misleading or deceptive. Adding a qualifier to a specialist title, such as adding “facial” to “plastic surgeon”, does not avoid the prohibitions in section 118 and 119 on using a title that indicates the person is registered in a recognised specialty when they are not, and does not make any advertising less misleading.
The prohibition on the use of specialist titles without registration in the specialty does not prevent medical practitioners from lawfully advertising the services they provide in other ways, by reference to their expertise and experience. For example:
- Dr Smith is a Specialist Otolaryngologist who has substantial experience in facial plastic surgery.
This statement advertises that the practitioner provides facial plastic surgery services without using the specialist title of 'plastic surgeon.’
AHPRA has more information on advertising on its website.