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Ratings website a crude barometer of care

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The AMA has warned that a website developed by health fund NIB to rate the service provided by dentists, optometrists and other health professionals could provide consumers with misleading information.

Earlier this month NIB launched its Whitecoat website, which lists contact details and patients reviews for around 30,000 ancillary health care providers.

The health fund said it had established the website, which has been under development for three years, in response to requests from its members looking to find and compare ancillary providers.

In addition to publicly-available contact information, for each provider the website includes three indictors of service – a Comparative Cost Score, a Likelihood to Recommend Score and individual patient reviews.

Comparative Cost is rated on a scale from 1, indicating low average charges, to 5 (high average charges), which reflects the weighted average fee charged for the most commonly used services offered by each provider.

The Likelihood to Recommend Score is based on patient reviews, and is on a scale from 0 (not likely to recommend) to 10 (highly likely to recommend).

NIB said these ratings would be particularly useful for patients who have moved into a new area, or need specialist treatment for the first time.

NIB Group Manager for Australian Residents’ Health Insurance, Rhod McKensey, said that, so far, feedback on the website about practitioners had been “90 per cent positive”.

Mr McKensey said the website only published contact information that was publicly available through Sensis, and providers had the option to opt out of having their Comparative Cost and Likelihood to Recommend scores, as well as any patients reviews, published on the website.

While GPs and medical specialists are not included in Whitecoat, AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton has voiced serious concerns about the usefulness and accuracy of information provided on such comparative websites.

Dr Hambleton told the ABC such websites were more likely to generate negative rather than positive feedback.

“You make 10 people happy, one of them sends you a thank you,” he said. “If you make one unhappy, they might tell 10 people. Online rating sites can often slip into berating sites.”

The AMA President has previously said that the experience of every patient is a personal one and, without context, crude ratings were of limited value.

He cited the example of an obstetrician who, because of the quality of their work, attracted many of the most difficult cases. This fact alone meant there was a greater risk of this practitioner having more adverse outcomes than an obstetrician who took on less complex cases.

Adrian Rollins