The national healthcare regulator AHPRA says a hefty fine imposed on a Sydney herbalist and acupuncturist should act as a warning to deter other registered healthcare practitioners from using false and misleading testimonials.
A Chinese Medicine practitioner was fined $45,000 for testimonials he published claiming he could cure various medical conditions including cancer, asthma and autism.
Mr Qi Xin Chen, who operates the Australian Natural Medicine Centre in Sydney pleaded guilty to 30 charges of false, misleading or deceptive advertising relating to articles on his websites.
The advertising included numerous testimonials detailing treatments Mr Chen apparently provided for asthma, as well as cancer, autism and fertility issues, an investigation by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) found.
The testimonials were “considered particularly shocking given they targeted such vulnerable individuals” the health watchdog said in a statement.
AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher said the case should act as a reminder to registered health practitioners that such breaches will not be tolerated.
“Making false claims about treating serious illnesses is both unethical and illegal and can heavily influence a patient’s decision-making around their healthcare needs,” he said.
“AHPRA and the National Boards are committed to preventing this and will continue to take action against unlawful advertising in the best interests of consumers.”
AHPRA is now investigating options for disciplinary action against the practitioner.
Chinese Medicine Board of Australia Chair, Professor Charlie Xue said practitioners would be held accountable under the National Law for this kind of flagrant misuse of advertising.
“The Board has been up front with the profession that if their advertising is not compliant with the law, they will be held to account. Any advertising claims must have the acceptable evidence to back them up,” he said.
Mr Chen, of Gladesville, was fined $45,000 and ordered to pay $5000 towards AHPRA’s legal costs at a sentencing hearing at Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney on October 31.
Lawyers for Mr Chen had argued that the material was published prior to the 2012 introduction of the National Law governing health regulation, which bans registered health practitioners from publishing patient testimonials.
But Magistrate Joanne Keogh said since then the advertising guidelines had been circulated since 2014, and ignorance could not be used as an excuse.
Dr Chen has had a high profile in the media, with stories featuring his patients claiming they experienced benefits from the herbs and acupuncture he provided at a cost of $370 a week.