Medical Board of Australia - June 2023
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June 2023

News for medical practitioners

In this month's issue:

Medical Board of Australia news

Protecting the title ‘surgeon’

Protecting the title ‘surgeon’ is a key feature of cosmetic surgery reform.

Queensland Parliament this month debated the legislative change to make this possible, and it has our full support.

Protecting the title ‘surgeon’ will stop any doctor without specialist registration in surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology or ophthalmology from calling themselves a surgeon. The change will empower patients, by making it clear who is a specialist surgeon, and who is not.

Without this amendment, any medical practitioner can call themselves a surgeon. In the cosmetic surgery industry, this loose language has caused confusion.

Many patients have told us that they thought the word ‘surgeon’ meant something. They thought that by choosing a doctor who called themselves a cosmetic surgeon, they were choosing someone highly qualified and safe. Many of the people who have been harmed found out too late that it did not.

Protecting the title ‘surgeon’ will limit what doctors call themselves and give a clear and agreed meaning to the word ‘surgeon’. But it is a restriction on language, not a restriction on practice. Protecting title will not restrict what doctors can do – because that’s not how the National Law works.

Protecting the title surgeon will not stop skilled doctors in rural and regional Australia providing much-needed surgical care when they have the skills to do so. It will stop these doctors calling themselves surgeons. This is an important distinction in the context of wider conversations about Australia’s health workforce.

Our complaints data make it clear this clarity is needed most in the cosmetic surgery industry. That is where surgery is happening by choice, when patients need most help navigating a system in which consumers must beware and in which social media plays such a big part.

The Queensland Parliament's Health and Environment Committee published its report on 2 June 2023 and recommended that the Bill be passed, and the report will be debated in the Legislative Assembly in due course. The report and submissions to the committee are available on the Queensland Parliament website.

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Cosmetic surgery reforms apply from 1 July

Higher standards and tougher advertising rules apply from 1 July. You can read more about what’s changing and see the detail of the two updated guidelines on our cosmetic surgery hub.

We’ve published some new resources to help doctors and patients navigate what’s changed. There’s a visual guide to cosmetic surgery advertising, including images, to make it clearer to doctors and the cosmetic surgery industry what is acceptable advertising and what’s not. Our proactive advertising audit continues, and we’ll be auditing against the new guidelines from 1 July.

The Board recently announced it was sequencing the start of the requirement that cosmetic surgery (except certain types of blepharoplasty) must be performed in an accredited facility to give facilities working towards accreditation more time to meet the required standards. However, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) has alerted the Board that there may be some difficulties with implementing the staged approach so the Board has decided to defer the requirement that medical practitioners only perform cosmetic surgery in accredited facilities or in facilities that are registered with an ACSQHC approved accrediting agency and have started working towards accreditation.

The Board will have further discussions with the ACSQHC and will consider the matter carefully. The Board has published a communication about the deferral. Further information will be published once the Board considers the matter. 

We’ve also updated our FAQs, with more information on patient assessment and body dysmorphia disorder screening. We’re keen to share our answers to the common questions that doctors have asked. Resources are available on the Board’s FAQs page.

There are updates from the cosmetic surgery oversight group published on the cosmetic surgery hub. This independent group, led by Ms Delia Rickard, was set up to check and assure everyone that we are doing what we said we’d do to reform the cosmetic surgery industry. The group commended Ahpra and the Board on how much progress has been achieved in a short time.

Sexual boundaries and patient expectations

We’re sharing some of the concerns that patients continue to raise with us, so doctors know what contemporary standards look like in medical practice. Inappropriate comments and poor communication can be sexual boundary violations, and include:

  • inappropriate comments that make patients feel uncomfortable
  • unnecessary physical examinations
  • poor explanations and as a result, inadequate informed consent for physical examinations
  • inappropriate text messages with patients – if you use texts for patient follow up, limit messages to clinical or medical communication and avoid becoming casual and/or social
  • informal and casual language that can be misinterpreted.

The Board’s national sexual boundaries committee, made up of board members from across the states and territories, make all decisions about these complaints. Clear professional standards guide all decisions.

The sexual boundaries guidelines are on the Board’s website.

News and alerts

Real-time prescription monitoring systems can reduce risk to patients

Using real-time prescribing systems can help reduce risk of harm to patients.

When you’re prescribing high-risk medicines such as pain medications, and benzodiazepines, please use the system available in your state or territory.

These systems give you access to a patient’s prescription history for high-risk medicines, supporting safer clinical and prescribing practices. The systems provide information about a patient’s history and use of controlled medicines, to inform your clinical judgement when you’re considering prescribing or dispensing these medicines.

There are links to information about systems in each state and territory on the Commonwealth’s Department of Health website.

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Contacting the Board

  • The Medical Board of Australia and Ahpra can be contacted by phone on 1300 419 495.
  • For more information, see the Medical Board of Australia website and the Ahpra website.
  • Lodge an enquiry form through the website under Contact us at the bottom of every web page.
  • Mail correspondence can be addressed to: Dr Anne Tonkin AO, Chair, Medical Board of Australia, GPO Box 9958, Melbourne, VIC 3001.

More information

Please note: Practitioners are responsible for keeping up to date with the Board’s expectations about their professional obligations. The Board publishes standards, codes and guidelines as well as alerts in its newsletter. If you unsubscribe from this newsletter you are still required to keep up to date with information published on the Board’s website.

Comments on the Board newsletter are welcome, send your feedback and suggestions to [email protected].

For registration enquiries or contact detail changes, call the Ahpra customer service team on 1300 419 495 (from within Australia).

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Page reviewed 23/04/2024