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Medical Board publishes Guidelines for Cosmetic Medical & Surgical Procedures

NewsFlash 11 May 2016

The Medical Board of Australia has published Guidelines which apply to registered medical practitioners who perform cosmetic medical or surgical procedures. The Guidelines take effect from 1 October 2016.


In May 2015 the Board published a discussion paper noting concerns that consumers were not sufficiently protected by the existing regulation of cosmetic medical and surgical procedures. The Board proposed four possible methods of addressing those concerns, including introducing Guidelines which specifically apply to cosmetic medical and surgical procedures performed by registered medical practitioners. 

The Board received approximately 600 submissions regarding its proposals, as well as a petition with more than 900 signatures.  After considering those submissions for almost 12 months, the Board has decided to introduce Guidelines – its preferred action – but has adopted some changes proposed during the consultation.

What do the Guidelines apply to?

The Guidelines apply to all medical practitioners registered under the Health Practitioner National Law and who provide cosmetic medical or surgical procedures. These procedures are defined as being “procedures which 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 or boosting the patient’s self-esteem.”

The Guidelines also separate these procedures into two sub-groups:

  •  “Major” procedures, which involve cutting beneath the skin; and
  •  “Minor” procedures, which do not involve cutting beneath the skin, but may involve piercing the skin.

Procedures that have a “medical justification” but which may also lead to an improvement in appearance are excluded from the definition of cosmetic procedures. The Guidelines also state that reconstructive surgery falls outside the scope of the Guidelines.

Key requirements under the Guidelines
From 1 October 2016, medical practitioners who provide cosmetic procedures will have to comply with the requirements of the Guidelines. Among other things, the Guidelines will require:

  • Practitioners to decline performing a procedure if they believe that the procedure is not in the best interests of the patient;
  • A seven-day cooling-off period before all procedures to be performed on adults;
  • A three-month cooling-off period before any major procedure to be performed on a patient under 18 years of age, as well as a mandatory evaluation by a registered psychologist, psychiatrist or GP before the procedure is performed;
  • A seven-day cooling off period before any minor procedure to be performed on a patient under 18 years of age, with evaluation by a registered psychologist, psychiatrist or GP when clinically indicated;
  • Treating practitioners to have responsibility for post-operative care, including arranging and ensuring availability of emergency facilities when anaesthesia, sedation or analgesia is used;
  • Prescription of Schedule 4 cosmetic injectables to be preceded by a consultation, either in person or via video consultation;
  • Provision of detailed information regarding the cost of the procedure; and
  • Deposits for procedures only be payable after the relevant cooling-off period has expired.

The Guidelines also prohibit medical practitioners from providing or offering financial inducements, either to patients or agents, and prohibit finance schemes being offered to patients (such as loans or third-party payment arrangements). Additional products or services which may act as a financial incentive to treatment are also prohibited. Examples of additional inducements specifically referred to in the Guidelines include free or discounted flights and accommodation. With the Guidelines only applying to Australian-registered practitioners, it remains to be seen if they will have any effect on the cosmetic-travel industry.

What you need to do

Providers of cosmetic procedures – including individual practitioners, clinics, day procedure centres and hospitals – need to review their operating procedures to ensure that they will comply with the Guidelines when they take effect in October 2016. Providers will need to ensure that they provide patients with detailed information regarding proposed procedures and the costs of procedures, as well as ensuring that all patients have a pre-procedure consultation which is at least 7 days prior to the procedure being performed.  Failure to comply with the Guidelines may give rise to disciplinary action against the relevant practitioner and, in some cases, could support complaints against a clinic or hospital.

Our Health Team is able to advise on the effect of the Guidelines and how you can ensure compliance with these requirements.

Cindy Tucker, Partner

NewsFlash 11 May 2016
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