NIB to launch healthcare directory

Health insurer NIB is set to launch a controversial and long-mooted website that rates and compares health professionals such as dentists, optometrists and chiropractors.

Health insurer NIB is set to launch a controversial and long-mooted website that rates and compares health professionals such as dentists, optometrists and chiropractors.

While previous plans were shouted down by industry bodies, NIB has confirmed that the site - called Whitecoat - will be launched later this year.

Whitecoat will provide a directory of healthcare sites, customer service and comparative cost data.

It will not cover general practitioners and medical specialists. The Australian Medical Association argues that one person's bad experience is more likely to be aired than the good experiences of 99 people.

"We expressed concerns about this some time back," federal AMA president Steve Hambleton told BusinessDay.

"When you provide a forum for people to rate practitioners, inevitably you're inviting people who want to berate practitioners."

Karin Alexander, president of the Australian Dental Association, said the group had advised its members to opt out of Whitecoat and was waiting on guidance of whether the site would breach laws banning registered dentists from using testimonials in advertising. She said it would difficult for the public to appreciate "reasonable reasons for differences in costs". But NIB's managing director, Mark Fitzgibbon, said the purpose of Whitecoat was to help all consumers make better purchasing decisions. "We expect the site to be very popular," he said.

NIB has been writing to members asking them to rate their recent experience with an allied health provider.

Members are encouraged to fill in a survey questioning how likely or unlikely they are to recommend the practitioner to family and friends over the next 12 months, and to offer "any feedback for NIB that could improve products and services".

In its 2013 results, NIB said claims paid for "ancillary" or extras services had increased 11.4 per cent to $274.5 million.

Ancillary services rebated by NIB are dental, optical, physiotherapy, chiropractic, natural therapies, osteopathy, pharmacy, podiatry and acupuncture.

"Dental utilisation has increased since the cessation of the government's Chronic Disease Dental scheme on December 1, 2012," it said. "The optical market has seen increased competition over the past few years, potentially putting downward pressure on service costs. Physio and chiro inflation generally moves in line with changes in service costs. Natural therapies continue to rise in popularity among consumers, experiencing the highest rates of utilisation inflation."

Grahame Danaher, managing director of insurer Westfund, said members were "generally happy" with their allied health providers.

Another health services feedback site, Patient Opinion Australia, said it had amassed almost 350 stories since starting in March 2012.

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