Whitecoat website to “improve consumer experience”

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Three large private health insurers have joined forces to expand Whitecoat, a health provider and consumer rating directory website, under the auspices of improving consumer experience of health care.

The private health insurance fund nib launched the website in 2013 and until now it had largely featured allied health professionals. It will now grow in collaboration with HBF and Bupa to include general practitioners, surgeons and other specialists.

The site will now also incorporate hospital data on the clinical outcomes of specialist treatments and data on gap fees, aiming to be the “TripAdvisor” of health care.

Private Healthcare Australia (PHA), the industry body representing the funds, said the website will give consumers the information they need to make better choices.

PHA CEO Dr Rachel David said consumers will have a “genuine opportunity to take greater control of their health care, and make informed decisions.

“Whitecoat will become the go-to site for consumers looking for health care and health fund members will be able to access the information they need to make informed choices about private medical providers,” Dr David said.

Health Minister Sussan Ley was also backing the site, which uses consumer surveys to identify the ‘’top five’’ practitioners in each field.

“Whitecoat is an example of where private health insurers can take a proactive, co-operative approach to making information available to Australians to help better inform their decisions about health care, and I look forward to working with them to deliver the Turnbull government’s reforms,” she said.

However, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) warned that far from helping health consumers, posting clinical outcomes of treatment online could lead to reduced access to care, particularly for patients with chronic and complex health problems.

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon said the site raised two issues, one was the possibility of doctors advertising and making ‘outlandish’ claims about their abilities, while the other was the threat doctors would stop taking on complex cases.

“The last thing you want is doctors being concerned about their stats being splashed all over the internet and then avoiding high risk cases.

“If you start telling me that you’re going to publish all my wound infection data, will I turn around and say ‘Look, I’m not going to operate on diabetics anymore, there’s no way I’m going to operate on people who are morbidly obese, and I’m certainly not going to operate on patients who come down from the country where I can’t keep an eye on them’. It’s the law of unintended consequences.

“We can’t have people determining the care they give out of fear of what a blunt instrument like an infection rate might show on the internet.”

Australian Private Hospitals Association CEO Mr Michael Roff said private hospitals welcome well informed patients, but there were other, and better, ways the health insurance funds could achieve “information asymmetry”.

“Private health insurers could assist consumer by simplifying their product range from the current confusing, impenetrable mess that makes it impossible to compare products in a meaningful way.

“Our research shows that 40% of health fund members don’t know if their policy excludes any services. Of those who know they have exclusions, more than 30% can’t say which services they are not covered for.

“Getting rid of exclusions would be a big help, but hopefully the health funds will include a section on Whitecoat where consumers can warn each other about which health insurance policies to avoid,” Mr Roff said.

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