An update on developments in the massage therapy industry

An update on developments in the massage therapy industry

General, Industry, Practise


As the leading industry group representing massage in Australia, we have a significant stake in this process. The AAMT Bulletin will keep you informed about the developments in our industry and the ongoing contributions of the AAMT.

Tricia Hughes
BA (SocSci), Dip HR Management, MAICD, CSA (cert)
Chief Executive Officer

Reviews and regulation

        Ensuring Code of Conduct has teeth

As an emerging sector of health, natural therapies are at a major crossroad with the development of a national Code of Conduct presenting a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

The decade long process, which gained momentum in NSW with the NSW Parliament Joint Committee on Health Care Complaints Commission,1 has now culminated, sixteen years later, in the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council’s (AHMAC) proposed enforceable national Code of Conduct.

If addressed appropriately, a number of significant issues identified in the consultation paper titled ‘A National Code of Conduct for Health Care Workers’, (under ‘Related Links) could help to deliver the much needed and long sought after reforms for massage therapists. These include:

  • uniform interpretation and application of the Code in state government legislation
  • a centralised national registry of practitioners
  • national minimum standards for dealing with complaints
  • standards of probity and proficiency for all natural health practitioners
  • recognised levels for more advanced natural therapies
  • standardised terminology and definitions
  • mandatory reporting of breeches of the Code, and
  • the sharing of information to close re-registration loopholes.

While a national Code is a welcome and much needed development, achieving a Code flexible enough in its application to address the variety of needs and circumstances of all natural therapies remains a significant challenge.

Inappropriately bundling this diverse sector of health into one homogenous group is likely to limit the Code to the lowest common denominator, and least advanced therapies.

Natural therapies include ingested medicines, oils, soft tissue manipulation, and dietary programs with varying degrees of efficacy and recognition by the mainstream health sector.

However, remedial massage, is already an integral part of the health system and recognised as legitimate and clinically effective, while many other natural therapies are still in their infancy, not as professionally advanced, or not supported by extensive clinical evidence.

Mechanisms that encourage and support the professional development and further integration of natural therapies with mainstream health will play a major role in achieving a robust Code that accommodates the less developed therapies while ensuring the Code has teeth enough to reign in the continued abuse of current regulatory frameworks by unscrupulous individuals operating in more advanced therapies.

The final AHMAC report, Options for regulation of unregistered health practitioners, contains numerous examples of first time and repeat offenders in sexual and other forms of misconduct made possible by the limitations of the current regulatory system which enables perpetrators to continue practicing any form of natural therapy or massage. In this regard, the AHMAC report demonstrates that the unique level of personal contact involved in massage exposes both client and therapist to a heightened level of risk of misconduct or perceived misconduct.

However, the existing loopholes and other market barriers in the current system provide significant opportunity for massage-specific reforms that improve the regulatory framework, levels of training and professionalism, and enable the continued integration of massage with conventional health provision.

As with natural therapies that use ingested medications, the heightened risk exposure in massage warrants specific measures within the Code and supporting legislation. A common interpretation of the Code in state government legislations, while recognising the diverse circumstances of various natural therapies, is a significant challenge and key to a robust and effective national complaints handling mechanism.

The AAMT will attend the consultations and make written submissions as required.

1. 1998, Unregistered Health Practitioners, The Adequacy and Appropriateness of Current Mechanisms for Resolving Complaints Final Report.

       TGA consultation puts focus on advertising in natural health

Advertising and other forms of promotion are vehicles to build reputations, create awareness about products and services, and differentiate product and services.

The recent Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) consultation regarding the regulation of advertising of therapeutic goods to the general public brings into focus the significance of responsible advertising and promotions in the natural therapy sector.

To strengthen industry self-regulation and Association standards, AAMT supported the inclusion of massage therapists as unregistered practitioners into section 42AA of the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989 in order to reduce risk to both practitioners and the public.

Looking at this issue more broadly, it is easy to see why overzealous and spurious claims sometimes made by individuals is one factor that brings into question the efficacy of some natural therapies.

Used appropriately, advertising can be a very effective tool in the marketing communications mix of small business, and the AAMT encourages responsible promotions and provides a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice for its members to follow.

The Code states that members will not wilfully misrepresent their qualifications, training or experience and must at all times comply with any other guidelines, standards or requirements of AAMT.

The Code applies to the recommendations and claims made about the goods and services offered by massage therapists who are AAMT members being truthful, accurate, based on evidence, and complying with Australian and state laws. AAMT members must ensure that public statements or advertisements:

  • do not contain false, misleading or fraudulent claims
  • do not contain claims which may bring the Association or the massage profession into disrepute
  • do not contain claims creating unrealistic expectation of results; and comply with all applicable laws
  • do not falsely imply sponsorship or verification by any organisation
  • ensure that advertisements or statements seeking research participants, clearly state the purpose and nature of the study and any costs and obligations accepted by the participants, and
  • ensure that advertising complies with all applicable laws including all laws relating to misleading or deceptive conduct and other unfair practices such as discrimination.

Failure to do so could lead to prosecution and, in some cases, to denial of coverage under insurance policies where the insurer believes the therapist has not acted in a professional way.

A copy of the Code is available from the AAMT website

       Medibank Provider status strengthened

During 2013, loopholes in the Private Health Insurance Rebate system that saw a small number of massage providers make spurious claims about the services provided has had a direct impact on Medibank Private and other Insurers and translated to new compliance requirements for legitimate massage therapists.

Medibank and AAMT have introduced a number of additional compliance measures for legitimate massage therapists to maintain their Provider status:

  • members will be able to log four clinics only with AAMT of which only three will be eligible for Medibank Provider Numbers
  • members are taken through an administrative process of identifying which clinics they want recorded as active
  • members to declare their adherence to the Code of Ethics annually stating they have met the standards of the Association, and
  • a number of educational changes, which include a mandatory requirement for Colleges to provide graduates with a letter stating that they have met the new training conditions.

AAMT has also increased random clinical governance audits with existing Providers.

Professional development

       Towards excellence in practice

The 2014-2019 Strategic Plan, Toward Excellence in Practice outlines a path for AAMT to partner further with its stakeholders in order to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

The Plan’s goals and objectives serve to improve the quality of education provided by Registered Training Organisations (RTOs), make available to industry a range of higher accreditations, promote massage therapy as a well-respected and researched practice, and seek a national registration framework that complements Unregistered Practitioners Law.

The plan also supports the core values of the AAMT to promote proactively and consistently quality services and responsiveness to consumers, health care professionals, and AAMT partners through a membership of therapists of excellence.

The proposed goals and objectives include specific task recommendations that span a five-year period, and include an evaluation process to regularly assess and update the plan as needed.

The Plan recognises that partnering with governments, educational institutions, health entities and the administrative bodies of the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) and the Community Services and Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC) will best serve the interests of its members, the wider health sector and the community.

Copies of the Strategic Plan are available from the AAMT website

       AAMT Commitment to Research

In order to further industry development, the AAMT will support the world-first researcher development program — the International Complementary Medicine (CM) Leadership and Capacity Building program.

To date, significant literature reviews conducted by RMIT and the University of South Australia on behalf of the AAMT have provided credible argument and evidence to support the use of massage and its development as part of the mainstream health sector.
The CM Leadership program now offers the opportunity to enhance research capabilities in the areas of massage that promise significant benefits for patients and the health sector.

Run by the Australian Research Centre in Complementary and Integrative Medicine (ARCCIM), in the Faculty of Health, University of Technology, Sydney, the program will build on existing research and bring a more sustainable approach to industry-wide research and data collection, not just within the AAMT.

The Program will draw upon the extensive experience and expertise of senior ARCCIM academics, alongside invited guests (national and international), who will affiliate with the Program.

Stronger links between researchers and practitioners will also provide emerging Complementary Medicine (CM) researchers with new opportunities to collaborate and achieve essential ‘critical mass’ to the planning and development of a broad evidence-base for CM practice and use. Over the long-term the program will:

  • identify, nurture and support future CM research leaders
  • build the skills to address the evidence needs of patients, practitioners and policy-makers
  • enable practitioners to translate evidence to clinical practice
  • improve the treatment outcomes for patients, and
  • contribute to a more effective natural health service.

Expected to run for a number of years and include an initial cohort of 12 early career to mid-career CM researchers (Fellows), chosen via competitive application, the program will provide essential mentoring/career development and research capacity building support.

The Program will also draw upon rigorous, established methods and disciplines from public health, health services research and clinical science. This includes health economics, practice network design, survey design, RCT design, epidemiology, qualitative research and the health social sciences, among others.

       10th Annual Conference

The 2014 AAMT National Conference, to be held in Brisbane on 24–25 May 2014 will involve a number of International presenters including James Waslaski and Mya Breman, along with an excellent array of local talent.

A dynamic conference program includes exploring the development of therapists’ research building capacity, and the latest developments in craniosacral and biomechanics.

Research and papers

       Published papers

Recently reported in the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers investigating the effects of massage on chronic neck pain found that mean reductions in Neck Dysfunction and Neck Pain Intensity from baseline were significantly greater in the massage groups than in the control group. The conditions required for positive outcomes related to timing and the regularity of treatments.

Five-Week Outcomes From a Dosing Trial of Therapeutic Massage for Chronic Neck Pain, Karen J. Sherman, PhD, MPH1,2, Andrea J. Cook, PhD1,3, Robert D. Wellman, MS1, Rene J. Hawkes, BS1, Janet R. Kahn, PhD4, Richard A. Deyo, MD, MPH5 and Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD1,6; Annals of Family Medicine 2014.

Australian Association of Massage Therapists Ltd

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