After a number of years in the planning, health insurer NIB—which last week caused some controversy by endorsing medical tourism—launched its much-promised Whitecoat website, which allows consumers to rate the experience of healthcare with their doctor, dentist, or other medical specialist.
NIB Group Manager – Australian Residents Health Insurance Rhod McKensey explained at the time that the information was drawn from information from NIB customers. “Every time an NIB customer visits an extras provider and we pay a claim, we send the customer an email and asking them to give us feedback on our experience,” Mr McKensey told local readio. “That feedback will be put through a robust moderation process, but about 85 per cent of the comments end up on the Whitecoat website.”
When NIB first mooted the idea back in 2011, the ADA recommended members not register with site. A teleconference of representatives from various professional associations with an interest in the nib website was conducted back then. “Similar concerns have been expressed by all professional associations as to the validity and value of the information that will be portrayed on the Whitecoat website,” said the ADA at the time. “There is a significant propensity for the website to provide inaccurate or misleading information.”
Current Australian Dental Association vice president Carmelo Bonanno told media that ratings and comments fail to adequately represent the whole experience of visiting a healthcare provider.
“It’s really a brief summary. It really doesn’t afford the opportunity to really understand what happened, what the dynamic was, what the treatment was, the sort of difficulties that may have been encountered,” he said.
“I see this as a cheap marketing exercise and nothing more.”
Mr Bonanno says he is also concerned about the ability for NIB to adequately moderate comments and ratings on the website.
“There is really no way of controlling the source of the comments and the veracity and the integrity of the comments,” he said.
“They say they can, but we don’t believe that they can.”
However, at least one consumer group praised the idea. Carol Bennett, the Chief Executive of The Consumers Health Forum of Australia, said Whitecoat represents a significant advance for Australian consumers by providing an easy and reliable way to compare and choose healthcare providers.
“Healthcare consumers deserve affordable quality healthcare and with Whitecoat they can now make more informed choices by benchmarking providers on key measures such as customer service and price,” said Ms Bennett.
NIB has consulted widely with providers, industry associations and government to overcome any issues or concerns they have regarding Whitecoat. In particular, NIB has invested heavily to ensure that the privacy of individual providers who are listed on Whitecoat is protected. Information such as the business address and telephone number of each provider will only be published by nib if it is publicly available through Sensis. In addition, providers will be able to “opt out” of having their Comparative Cost Score, Likelihood to Recommend Score and reviews published on the site.