Having a testimonial on your health & wellness business website may mean you're breaking the law. But then again it may not.
Is a "testimonial" the same as a "review"? And does it matter in NZ law?
And why, oh why, is there never a clear answer?!
In this weeks blog we'll look at testimonials, reviews, what the law says (and doesn't) and what you can (and can't) put on your website.
If you run out of time, scroll down to the second to last paragraph and find the answer!
Unfortunately, as many things that were written pre-websites & social media things are clear as mud. But let's review what we know about using testimonials to help people make the choice to book with or buy from our health & wellness businesses.
Is where all the other codes of good practice come back to as a reference. And this is what it says ...
Take note of what's circled. "Directly or by implication" is where the information in a testimonial would sit. You see, this Act doesn't actually use the wording "testimonial", it's just implied.
The advertising is for a medicine, device or therapeutic treatment. "Therapeutic treatment" is anything you'd do to treat a patient - dietary, manipulation, exercise. Anything like that.
What's also noted is that advertising has to directly or by implication claim a prevention / cure / alleviate (help) a disease or physiological condition that they list later on.
And here is the list of conditions they provide:
So if Mrs X writes you a review that says your treatment really helped her recover from smallpox. Then you're breaking the law.
But what if your client is writing you a testimonial that isn't on that conditions list?
Could Mrs X say your treatment really helped her alleviate the discomfort of her IBS or Adrenal Fatigue? That's not so clear, as neither of these conditions are on the list, or anything close.
Can the Therapeutic & Health Advertising Code be any clearer?
As we found out in my blog on the Therapeutic and Health Advertising Code they're a bit more clear about things. Here's what they say:
Again, the focus is on not having testimonials that state a benefit from the treatment.
What if the testimonial just says I'm a great listener & awesome person?
OK, so far we've pretty much found out that testimonials that relate to someone having a beneficial effect from your treatment if it's on one of the conditions listed are a no-no.
But what if the testimonial is someone just saying you listened well, were an all-round awesome person and you were really happy with them. Is this ok?
Oh, if only I could give a clear answer.
There's nothing about this (that I could find) on the Medicines Act 1981.
There's nothing about this (that I could find) on the Therapeutic and Health Advertising Code
There IS something about this on the Medical Council of NZ. In fact, what they state is very, very clear ...
Look closely at the first two sentences. "Recommendation or positive statement ... INCLUDE expressions of appreciation or esteem, a character reference OR a statement of the benefits received from the care provided.
Equals, if Mrs X says you're a lovely person ... BOOM = testimonial = law broken. IF you're a doctor.
The New Zealand Chiropractic Board says a blanket "no" to testimonials in their Advertising Policy, but doesn't make any distinction between character reference or therapeutic benefit.
Reviews vs Testimonials
What is the difference between a review and a testimonial?
Well, there seems to be little difference. Here's what Dictionary.com has to say.
What the legal difference is, I'm not sure as I can't get anyone to answer that question! If you have an answer please email me!
These days we often think of a review as something that is given freely, where as a testimonial is asked for and vetted before sharing. Think TripAdvisor vs what you'd put on your own website. You'd only put glowing reports on your own website, but TripAdvisor anyone can write what they like and you have no control.
So a review may be seen these days, depending on where it's given, as being more objective.
But does this make any difference in law?
If someone puts up a review on a website about me, is this my responsibility? Is this classed as a testimonial? And what if it makes mention of therapeutic benefit or only my character?
The answer is ... (ta da)
It seems (non-legal trained opinion here remember) that according to the Medicines Act 1981 that as long as someone says something on your advertisement (read website or social media site) that doesn't imply or state that they received a benefit from whatever you do, that's on that list of conditions YOU COULD BE OK.
Then again you might not be.
Because what you really need to do is go and get the nod from your professional association which, like the Medical Council, may say something more. And make sure they know what they're talking about, because I've heard different associations say some very different things. And I'd get it in writing (just to cover your back).
The Final Word
I'm going to keep investigating this. Trying to find out about reviews / testimonials and that whole Medicines Act thing.
Stay tuned to find out more :)