A plan by Australia’s fifth largest private health insurer - the 800,000 member strong - NIB to launch a website ranking allied health providers based on feedback from patients has been, regrettably, criticised by the country's peak doctors group, the Australian Medical Association.
NIB expects its new service, whitecoat.com.au, to go live by the end of June 2011, allowing all Australians, NIB members or not, to compare and contrast healthcare specialists coast to coast based on patient satisfaction, location and cost.
Initially the site will offer customer satisfaction scores on dentists, optometrists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, occupational therapists, acupuncturists dieticians, nutritionists, naturopaths, herbalists, homoeopathists, myotherapists and bowen therapists: a total of 200,000 providers. If the public embraces the site, NIB will probably extend it to cover medical practitioners (both general and specialists).
Empowering customers of health care providers is commonplace in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The real questions for Australians are first, why did it take NIB so long to get to this place and second, where are the other private health funds on this question?
If you need a dentist, podiatrist, physiotherapist, optometrist, chiropractor, occupational therapist or acupuncturist, do you know where to go to receive the best of care? And if your wallet doesn’t open up wide enough for the best of care, would you know who to see that’s regarded as not the best, but ‘very, very, good’?
NIB’s whitecoat.com.au will list service providers, their location relative to you, their treatment plans, prices, what to expect at an appointment, likely waiting times before an appointment is available and most importantly, customer feedback.
The public mostly finds out about allied health practitioners the same way it finds medical specialists. By asking a general practitioner, who may or may not genuinely know how good a colleague is relative to the latter’s peers.
This is not to disparage one’s general practitioner but merely to state the obvious. He or she will refer you to who he or she thinks is good. The NIB site will, in time, aggregate thousands of customer experiences, some good, some bad, some dreadful and some outstanding. Such a site will offer the public a more accurate guide as to which professional to visit. Of course it’s not infallible and I doubt NIB will claim it to be so. But it should prove unquestionably informative.
So how will whitecoat.com.au work? Not having seen it, intuitively I expect it to work as follows. Users of the site will be asked to choose a treatment from a drop down menu of health care professionals they wish to see, and noting that most folk don’t want to travel too far for treatment, say a maximum of 10 kilometres, they’ll be asked to key in the relevant postcode. That is either that of their home or office. And professionals in the area should appear on the screen.
In my case, I am in need of a new dentist as I am unhappy with my long-standing one. NIB’s job will be to help me find a very good dentist in my immediate vicinity.
After entering a postcode three types of dentists should appear: government funded, for which one must qualify (and wait and wait to be seen); health fund owned clinics; and private dental care providers.
Not only will dental practices appear in response to my online query, but also will a list of all the services offered performed. The list of services will differ between dentists based on the size of the practice, years of experience, market segments targeted and specialisations. Some for instance will have at their practice: cosmetic dentistry, hygiene, oral health assessment, specialist treatment such as periodontists and endodontists, oral surgeons, implant specialists, and orthodontist and a specialist in dental phobia and anxiety.