One of the few specialists on the Federal Government’s fee transparency site has urged his colleagues to join up, but says he can understand why most seem reluctant to do so.
Officially known as the Medical Costs Finder, the website was officially relaunched in December 2022 with the capability to feature fee information from individual doctors for common procedures and consultations.
But six months in, the feature remains almost completely unused, with a search in February throwing up the names of just four doctors on the database: three gastroenterologists and a single obstetrician/gynaecologist.
The limbic went back to the website in May to discover just one more name had been added, for an orthopaedic surgeon in Sydney.
Despite this, when we interviewed one of the early adopters of fee transparency, they stood by their decision to share their details, saying it was a matter of principal.
A gastroenterologist, they asked for their name to be withheld from the story to speak candidly on their views.
The limbic: Why did you decide to join the site?
I did it because in principle, I liked the idea of patients knowing what they should expect to pay and compare doctors’ fees. Every doctor should give informed financial consent, but currently what happens is that by the time you get to that conversation, patients are sort of too far down the track to really pull back.
I’ve had friends and family go see specialists and, I think, pay far too much for what they had and could have had for free in the public system. So I felt this was something that would be important if it could work and will be useful for patients and the community, and will help keep prices as affordable as possible.
Did you find it challenging to upload your information?
It wasn’t terrible, although I think some people may have begun the process and just given up. There was a way to do it, uploading your numbers for every health fund, but it was a bit clunky.
I think they have maybe tried to do too much with it. One issue was I don’t charge gaps and the system wouldn’t let me put that in easily. I can imagine others got into it and just found it overwhelming so decided it wasn’t worth it. It is not a job you can just do in 10 minutes!
How would you like the site to work?
I would love it to work and have really high uptake and for patients be able to use it so if their GP refers them to someone for a routine colonoscopy, they could say ‘that guy is going to charge $600, there is someone in the same suburb who will do it for less, I’ll go with them’.
We’re not talking high tech brain transplant stuff here, just routine stuff before you go see the doctor. Currently you go somewhere, they explain the problem, tell you what they need to do, you sign a consent form and only then do they give you the financial consent. It’s just sort of late in the process.
Has a patient ever told you they found you on the site?
No. I’m sure it’s mostly people like you who have looked, seen there are only four doctors with the nearest 600km away and given up on it.
Besides the fact that it is a bit difficult to use, I think the other reason why there aren’t many doctors on it is there are some out there who don’t want this sort of thing to go ahead.
How do you feel about that, knowing you’re one of just a handful of doctors in the whole country? You’re kind of sticking your head above the parapet.
You have got to support the principle of it to put up with the machine. If you don’t feel passionate about it, that it is a good thing to do. If you think it’s neutral, or you actually don’t want to see doctors’ prices compared publicly, then you’re not going to put up with the machine to do it. So you have to have some sense that this is a good thing to do.
Does it surprise you there are so few? Surely you’re not the only specialist out there who believes in fee transparency?
Maybe they would say ‘I have a website and that has guidelines which are more relevant than something a generic government system can do. I am very transparent, I just do it on my website, not yours.’
Does finding out you are one of just a handful of doctors on the site make you less comfortable having your information up there?
No. Because I’m no gap I couldn’t care less. I’m not feeling uncomfortable about my price point. I think it’s disappointing to the system and for the consumer, but I don’t care if I’m the only one, or one of 100. It makes no difference to me.
Is there anything you’d say to other doctors who aren’t on the site yet?
Look, I’d like to see greater fee transparency. Is this the best way to do that? I think it’s potentially very useful, but maybe there are other ways of getting there.
I don’t think most people are maliciously avoiding the site, even if there are some who oppose it. I think’s probably just not worth the effort for most of them.