Consumers are increasingly demanding greater access to healthcare information. Historically, there has been an asymmetry of information in the healthcare sector weighted to facilities and clinicians. Traditionally, a patient attended their general practitioner who likely referred them to a local specialist known to the general practitioner. If the patient required a procedure, the choice of facility they could attend to undergo the procedure was limited to the facilities at which the specialist had visiting rights. Questions were seldom asked by the patient.

Today, patients can log onto a social media site and seek feedback from others about healthcare practitioners and facilities. They can browse healthcare review sites on the internet such as RateMD and Whitecoat, and read the opinions of others regarding their experiences with particular healthcare practitioners and facilities. In effect, the information asymmetry is shifting and patients have the ability to make more informed decisions regarding their treating healthcare practitioners and facilities. The question must be raised, do you really want patients relying on the subjective, unqualified opinion of the every-day person when making decisions regarding their treating healthcare practitioners and facilities. Or, would you prefer such decision making to be based on data that has been appropriately managed and analysed?

At a recent event hosted by MinterEllison, Sarah Lark, Special Counsel, moderated an expert panel comprised of Graeme Samuel, AC, Chairman of Lorica Health, Dr Rachel David, CEO, Private Healthcare Australia and Dr Robert Herkes, Clinical Director, Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare. The panel considered how the emergence of social media and healthcare rating sites is impacting the healthcare industry and why measuring patient satisfaction and outcomes is crucial for the public and private health sectors.

The key messages from our panel were as follows:

  1. The most effective way to empower patients is to provide them with meaningful information so that they can make informed decisions about their healthcare practitioners and facilities.
  2. Measuring patient satisfaction and outcomes is crucial to improving the quality of healthcare in Australia. Outcomes are the ultimate measure of success in healthcare. The data provides evidence of areas for improvement and drives improvement among craft groups of healthcare practitioners. It allows outliers to be identified and managed. It also empowers patients by providing meaningful information they can rely on when making decisions about their treating healthcare practitioners and facilities.
  3. Measuring patient satisfaction and outcomes also benefits the economy. It provides healthcare practitioners with the information to determine treatments that are working and those that are not. In effect, this results in fewer unnecessary surgeries being performed or treatments being administered, a reduction in re-admission rates, and a reduction in costs.
  4. There must be a unified approach to measuring patient satisfaction and outcomes.
  5. Complying with the legislative requirements in relation to privacy are a barrier to measuring patient satisfaction and outcomes. However, this may be overcome by de-identification of the data.

The information shift is happening but there is still healthy debate within the sector about whether the necessary data exists. Clearly, there is a discussion that should continue and a place for ongoing stake holder engagement throughout the sector to effect cultural change and reforms. If you do not jump on board, then you will not have the opportunity to be part of the message.