Guidelines for registered medical practitioners who advertise cosmetic surgery (PDF, 140KB)
These guidelines have been developed by the Medical Board of Australia (the Board) under section 39 of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (the National Law) as in force in each state and territory.
These guidelines aim to inform registered medical practitioners and the community about the Board’s expectations of medical practitioners who advertise cosmetic surgery in Australia. They also aim to support medical practitioners who advertise cosmetic surgery services to do this responsibly.
These guidelines have been developed to address the unique features of cosmetic surgery that are not present in many other areas of medical practice and the specific risks involved with cosmetic surgery advertising. Cosmetic surgery is invasive with potential complications, is often irreversible and is often sought by potentially vulnerable people.1 It can also be a lucrative area of practice and financial gain can compete with and sometimes outweigh patient wellbeing and safety considerations.
These guidelines describe responsible practice when advertising cosmetic surgery. Good practice cosmetic surgery advertising is honest, balanced, realistic, and informative. It protects the dignity of patients and does not exploit patients.
‘Cosmetic surgery’ is defined in the ‘Definitions’ section.
These guidelines provide specific guidance for registered medical practitioners who advertise cosmetic surgery and are in addition to Good medical practice: a code of conduct for doctors in Australia (Good medical practice) and Guidelines for advertising a regulated health service (the broader advertising guidelines).
Medical practitioners who advertise cosmetic surgery are expected to comply with the following:
Medical practitioners advertising cosmetic surgery must also comply with therapeutic goods advertising and laws governing Australian Consumer Law. More information about this is in the broader advertising guidelines.
These guidelines reflect good practice when advertising cosmetic surgery due to the unique risks associated with cosmetic surgery and advertising. They set out types of advertising of cosmetic surgery the Board considers will contravene section 133 of the National Law and what the Board considers constitutes appropriate professional conduct when advertising cosmetic surgery.
In some areas these guidelines are intentionally more specific than the broader advertising guidelines as these guidelines provide practitioners with the Board’s position on particular issues that are specific to advertising cosmetic surgery.
Where there is a conflict between these guidelines, the broader advertising guidelines, and/or Good medical practice, medical practitioners should comply with the most specific guidance.
The Board and Ahpra can deal with inappropriate advertising in a number of ways, including through:
These guidelines apply to medical practitioners registered under the National Law who advertise cosmetic surgery.
The Board considers this guidance to represent good practice in all advertising of cosmetic surgery.
The responsibility for advertising content rests with the person in ultimate control of the advertising. In most cosmetic surgery advertising this is the registered medical practitioner.
Medical practitioners need to check any content produced by others on their behalf and ensure it is compliant.
When someone other than a registered medical practitioner controls the advertising of cosmetic surgery (for example, where the practitioner is an employee of a multi-disciplinary business) the medical practitioner is still obliged to ensure their cosmetic surgery services are advertised lawfully and appropriately. Medical practitioners must use their best endeavours to ensure that anyone who advertises the medical practitioner’s services complies not only with section 133 of the National Law but all other aspects of these guidelines.
Cosmetic surgery and procedures are operations and other procedures that revise or change the appearance, colour, texture, structure or position of normal bodily features with the dominant purpose of achieving what the patient perceives to be a more desirable appearance.2
Cosmetic surgery involves cutting beneath the skin. Examples include breast augmentation, abdominoplasty, rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty, surgical face lifts, cosmetic genital surgery, and liposuction and fat transfer.
Non-surgical cosmetic procedures do not involve cutting beneath the skin but may involve piercing the skin. Examples include cosmetic injectables such as Botulinum toxin and dermal fillers, (also known as soft tissue fillers), fat dissolving injections, thread lifts, sclerotherapy and microsclerotherapy, CO2 laser skin resurfacing, cryolipolysis (fat freezing), laser hair removal, dermabrasion, chemical peels, and hair transplants.3 Mole removal for the purposes of appearance is classified as non-surgical even though it may involve cutting beneath the skin.
Surgery may be medically justified if it involves the restoration, correction or improvement in the shape and appearance of body structures that are defective or damaged at birth or by injury, disease, growth, or development for either functional or psychological reasons.4 Surgery and procedures that have a medical justification and which may also lead to improvement in appearance are excluded from the definition.
Reconstructive surgery differs from cosmetic surgery as, while it incorporates aesthetic techniques, it restores form and function as well as normality of appearance. These guidelines apply to plastic surgery when it is performed only for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons. They do not apply to reconstructive surgery.
Gender affirmation surgery is not considered cosmetic surgery.
Section 41 of the National Law states that an approved registration standard or a code or guideline approved by the Board is admissible in proceedings under this Law or a law of a co-regulatory jurisdiction against a practitioner registered by the Board as evidence of what constitutes appropriate professional conduct or practice for the profession.
These guidelines can be used to assist the Board in its role of protecting the public, by setting and maintaining standards of medical practice. If a medical practitioner’s professional conduct varies significantly from these guidelines, the practitioner should be prepared to explain and justify their decisions and actions.
Serious or repeated failure to meet these guidelines may have consequences for a medical practitioner’s registration.
The broader advertising guidelines define advertising.
In the context of advertising a regulated health service, such as cosmetic surgery, advertising includes, but is not limited to, all forms of verbal, printed and electronic communication that promotes and seeks to attract a person to a regulated health service provider and/or to attract a person to use the regulated health service (such as the cosmetic surgery service). Social media is often used to advertise a regulated health service. Content on public and private social media profiles or groups may constitute advertising under the National Law if the content relates to a regulated health service. This includes comments by the practitioner or other content from the practitioner.
Advertising can also occur via:
Due to cosmetic surgery’s discretionary nature, advertising plays a significant role in driving demand. Social media advertising and/or other commercial business practices, such as upselling additional procedures or treatments, or offering other inducements, are used extensively to reach and influence consumer choice in cosmetic surgery. This is different from most other regulated health services which are driven by healthcare need.
Advertising that does not accurately represent the health service provided, the risks, or the nature and scope of the service is unacceptable and is not appropriate in the context of invasive medical treatments, such as cosmetic surgery. It can mislead the public, create unrealistic expectations, may lead patients to seek out unnecessary or inappropriate cosmetic surgery, may downplay the seriousness of the surgery and/or the risk of surgery, or downplay the recovery time and recovery experience, and lead to poor healthcare decisions.
Healthcare advertising that is ethical, honest, and responsible helps to keep people safe by providing them with accurate and balanced information that can be used to make informed decisions about cosmetic surgery. Following these guidelines when advertising cosmetic surgery will ensure acceptable advertising that meets professional obligations and Good medical practice.
Good practice cosmetic surgery advertising:
These guidelines set out what the Board considers is good practice when advertising cosmetic surgery.
It is not possible to provide an exhaustive list of advertising that will or will not meet these guidelines. Where these guidelines provide examples, terms and phrases that are inappropriate in advertising these are practical examples to help understanding of the requirements and are not the only examples, terms and phrases that would be considered inappropriate.
These guidelines (Guidelines for registered medical practitioners who advertise cosmetic surgery) are focused solely on cosmetic surgery, as this was the focus of consultation and recommendations arising from the Independent review of the regulation of medical practitioners who perform cosmetic surgery.
Among the requirements in the Guidelines for registered medical practitioners who perform cosmetic surgery and procedures is the following:
Practitioners advertising non-surgical cosmetic procedures should be aware that this requirement applies to advertising of these procedures, until such time as more detailed consideration and consultation occurs in relation to advertising these procedures.
Date of issue: 1 July 2023
The Board will review these guidelines from time to time as required. This will generally be at least every five years.