It appears that some regulators are looking at websites without a complaint necessarily from a patient or another practitioner.
Compliance with advertising guidelines is not the only issue the regulator considers.
Dentists who seek referrals from patients need to be aware that one of the definitions of unprofessional conduct under the National Law is:
g) offering or giving a person a benefit, consideration or reward in return for the person referring another person to the practitioner or recommending to another person that the person use a health service provided by the practitioner;
In simple terms if a dentist were to publish that a patient would receive a benefit from referring another patient then that could be arguably unprofessional conduct.
This is because as a matter of policy, inducing patients to seek treatment a particular practitioner might interfere with the patient’s free will.
It is not clear whether simply – as is often done – sending a patient a small gift or a simple thank you note could be considered to be a benefit or inducement but practitioners need to be cautious in this regard. It’s probably unlikely.
If a complaint were to be made by a patient – which is probably unlikely – then an accusation of unprofessional conduct could be made.
However where inducements are made publicly on a practice website or Facebook page then it is possible that a regulator or another dentist or even a member of the public could make a complaint.
That the time honoured practice of thanking patients for referring other patients could be deemed to be unprofessional is perhaps concerning but it is probably a matter of what is a material breach of the provision.
In other words is providing a practice branded toothbrush or a thank you note a benefit, consideration or reward or is it just part of professional custom and interpersonal practice ?
It would seem that retrospectively giving something to a referring person is more likely to be regarded as unprofessional, and retrospectively giving something to a a patient to thank them might be less so,
Also, giving a patient a toothbrush, movie tickets or a voucher would be less likely to be at issue than giving the referee a holiday or something more significant.
And of course of this policy is prospective and marketed on a website then it is obviously of greater risk of complaint.
If you have a complaint or notification anywhere in Australia and are unsure how to deal with it, then please feel free to call me at chambers on 07 3007 1777 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for an initial assessment and conversation.
The above commentary is not intended and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different and these generalities are merely observations. If you need advice about your particular situation, then seek individualised advice from an appropriately experienced and qualified legal practitioner.