Whitecoat, Australia's largest healthcare consumer platform, which allows patients to rate physiotherapists, dentists and other allied professionals on their listening skills and customer service – has now extended its ratings services to doctors in 77 different specialties.
The ratings juggernaut will also in February introduce Whitecoat Pro, a cardless, cashless payment system that will allow healthcare professionals to process health fund payments and gap payments on the spot through a mobile app.
Now in formal partnership with Bupa, NIB and HBF, Whitecoat has more than 4 million visitors a year and 575,000 moderated reviews from patients offering future patients their perspective on a healthcare provider's listening skills, explanation of treatment and how long it takes to get an appointment.
Patients can also comment on a medical provider's affordability, pricing, waiting time or any other non-clinical aspects of their customer experience.
"Health is like oxygen; when there's lots of it about nobody cares. But when there's not much about no one cares about much else," Whitecoat chief executive Matthew Donnellan told The Australian Financial Review Commonwealth Bank of Australia's Future of Health Conference roundtable.
"Consumers want to treat healthcare in exactly the way they treat every other aspect of life.
"I can sit here now and book a trip around the world including all my flights, accommodation and transfers and yet that's easier to do than a referral pathway to see a surgeon. And there is nothing more important in my life when I need an operation, than that operation."
He said the antiquated notion of presenting a healthcare card and swiping in the hope of finding out whether you are covered was ridiculous in 2017.
"Similarly, is the need to present a physical Medicare card to a GP or for the GP to have it stored to pay for an episode.
"I can get into a taxi or an Uber and not have that. That's what we're trying to do with health. The number of manual hand-offs in Australian healthcare is astonishing."
Donnellan said Whitecoat had also in October extended its service to medical specialists.
In total, Whitecoat now has 65,000 healthcare providers signed up, including 16,000 specialists and surgeons and 11,000 GPs.
"As we bring on Medicare payments we expect that to rise significantly," he said.
Whitecoat will also launch a new data system to GPs in February that will provide GPs with a participating surgeon or specialist's availability, whether they participate in a "no gap" or "known gap" scheme and average out-of-pocket costs for procedures.
A doctor's readmission and infection rates may also soon be available (but this would be on a fund-by-fund basis).
"Overall, we hope the customer health experience for 2018 to be much more transparent not just for patients, but for GPs who can have all the criteria they need in 10 seconds."
'You cannot let targets dictate policy'
While consumer groups have welcomed Whitecoat's plans, medical groups warned ratings websites were just another avenue for private health insurers to wrest control over a medical system they already largely control.
And promoting a doctor's poor readmission rates to GPs could also taint the reputations of good surgeons who dealt with complex and chronically ill patients, because they did not look good on paper.
"You cannot let targets dictate policy," said AMA president Dr Michael Gannon.
"We've expressed concerns before about health insurers owning and vetting this information.
"If I'm a doctor and nervous about my readmission rate I might not provide the best care for that patient, which might mean readmitting the patient for 24-48 hours with a course of intravenous antibiotics that will knock say a mastitis infection on the head.
"Instead I might send them home with a 10-day course of oral antibiotics, the patient may get sicker or even abandon breastfeeding.
"There are perverse consequences to ratings websites. I would say that I would trust my GP to guide me in the right direction rather than a clerk in a private health insurer's office in the other side of the country."
Israeli medical entrepreneur and GP Dr Yossi Bahagon told the roundtable that there was a way to more fairly tackle the issue of unadjusted quality measures ratings, based on a similar program introduced in Israel.
"We created a score that took into account various aspects of the patient's complexity. This included age, gender, background, history medications, co-morbidities and so on. Based on that, the rating of the outcome also included a reference to the baseline situation with which the patient came.
"You can't compare a 30-year-old hernia surgery to colon cancer removal of a 78-year-old patient with 10 other diseases. This way, we reduced the hurdle of physician acceptance of such ratings."
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This article was published and provided by the Australian Financial Review in commercial partnership with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.