Dr Matthew Gray, Schwarz Family Practice
- On 28/04/2016
Towards the end of 2014 there were some proposed changes to the way general practice is funded and an expectation by the Government that we would charge a gap payment to patients. What we recognised is that whilst when Medicare was introduced the rebate was probably a fair and reasonable reflection of the costs and value of the service that general practice provides, what we’ve seen overtime is a very modest increase in the rebate and a significant increase in costs. So to be able to provide the quality of care that we desired, we recognised that a move to increased private billing was required.
The actual transition to increased private billing took about a month. The practice used that time leading up to the start date to create detailed letters explaining why they considered it necessary and preparing staff to communicate the changes to patients. We placed posters around the practice and provided staff with a cohesive message that was fairly simple and easy to explain.
When the changes were made, the reaction from patients was generally one of acceptance and we didn’t see a drop in patient numbers.
Looking back at the recent transition, I admit there was some fear. Despite Camden being a pocket of relative affluence, the South Western region is generally socio-economically disadvantaged. There are also several other general practices in the area, some of which are 100% bulk billing.
The obstacle for me was the fear of losing patients. And I guess as a profession and as individuals, we didn’t go into medicine to have the economics of general practice as the centre of what we do.
However, we have to be comfortable that we’re adding value to people’s lives. And if the rebate doesn’t recognise the value of the service and the cost of providing the service then that’s a political discussion. But we need to be able to recognise the value of our service and price it at an appropriate level, while acknowledging the people who are less able to pay and giving them a discounted or bulk billed rate.