Specialist fees will be published and consumers will review their quality of care in a new rate-my-doctor website likely to anger the medical profession.
Health insurance companies NIB, Bupa and HBF have joined forces to publish customer feedback and gap fees for individual doctors, following rising disgruntlement among members about price gouging by specialists.
The website – an expanded version of NIB’s health provider directory Whitecoat – will initially publish prices, customer reviews and allow customers to book and pay for their appointments online.
Whitecoat currently covers GPs, dentists, physiotherapists and other allied health professionals, but not specialists.
NIB chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon said the plan was eventually to publish the clinical outcomes of specialists from hospital data, adjusted for variables such as some doctors taking on more difficult cases.
Although Australia had an excellent health system, consumers suffered from “information asymmetry” when it came to making decisions, he said.
“In most markets the consumers have as much information as the sellers and they’re able to make informed decisions,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“In health care, it’s anything but. We know from around the world that consumers like to hear what other patients have said about their experience with a doctor or hospital.”
The customer reviews would be censored if they commented on whether particular operations were appropriate, because patients were not qualified to make that assessment, he said.
Health funds have been concerned about their clients getting bill shock from specialists, and blaming their insurance policies for not absorbing the high out-of-pocket costs.
NIB and Bupa already publish their standard “no-gap” rate for individual procedures, as well as the Australian Medical Association’s recommended charge.
Medibank is collaborating with the Royal College of Surgeons to give specialists advice on how their charges compare with the rest of the profession, but has stopped short of making the information publicly available.
But doctors have traditionally opposed ratings websites.
The problem with publishing infection rates and other data about clinical performance was that it might persuade doctors not to take on more complicated patients, he said.
“I do understand the desire for greater information but a website owned by health insurers has the potential to produce information asymmetry in a whole lot more dangerous way than relying on GPs,” Dr Gannon said.
The combined funds will give Whitecoat a reach of 6 million customers who are able to write reviews and book appointments, and the reviews will be available for anyone to read online.
Former competition regulator head Graeme Samuel said the website represented a “new paradigm” for health consumers, but the funds needed to ensure the data was collected with integrity.
Consumers currently had very little power in making informed decisions on their health, Dr Samuel said.
“Providers used to say to me, ‘Health is different, because consumers don’t understand, therefore they’ve got to rely on us to tell them what’s best for them’,” Dr Samuel said.
“You have no idea whether the surgeon is a good one or it’s Dr Patel, you have no idea whether the anaesthetist might have had incidents in the past, you have no idea whether the hospital has longer length of stay or a propensity for re-infections or complications.
“This is the sort of information that the average patient ought to have.
“If there’s a medical practitioner who’s showing a propensity for complications or failures or readmissions, that ought to be out there.
“And of course medical providers don’t like it. But I can’t think of a single business that likes to have its success or the quality of what they’re doing exposed, unless they’re the best quality and they’re proud of it.”