A new website, whitecoat.com.au, developed by nib health insurance will rank optometrists and other medical service providers by their charges and patient feedback.
The website, being launched in early this year, draws on survey information collected from nib members.
Matthew Neat, Media and Investor Relations Manager at nib, said the survey is “all about empowering our customers with the information that will allow them to compare and select optical providers.” It will “also give providers access to real-time customer feedback that will allow them to evaluate their customer service levels and where necessary make adjustments that can positively influence their business. This is functionality that many service providers would otherwise not have access to,” he said.
nib customers will be asked to complete a brief survey when they submit their claim within three days of accessing an optical dispensary. “nib customers will rank their optical provider on their own …dealings. We survey them with one question – “would you recommend this provider to a friend or family member? We believe that’s the best question – if you’re not happy with a provider, you wouldn’t tell a family member to visit them, so we believe that’s a fair metric to provide analysis on customer experience.”
A small number of disgruntled patients could unfairly smear the reputation of a good practitioner…
The survey also asks members to rank their optometrist on price. Customers are also given the option of providing comments.
Mr. Neat says the questioning is simple, and answers are ranked from one to 10 then analysed using the well established Net Promoter Score System which is used as a research tool by many international corporations. The methodology used to determine this final score classifies the ratings of 0-10 into three groups: 9-10: ‘extremely likely to recommend’; 7-8: ‘likely to recommend’; and 0-6: ‘less likely to recommend’.
nib will display the number of responses on a time period scale of one month, six months and 12 months. The company claims that this approach “allows for fairness within the methodology, isolating anomalies and showing positive or negative change over time.”
The Optometrists Association Australia National President Michael Knipe said: the “Association is of the view that it is unlikely that the website will be of genuine value in helping consumers make a choice. Sample sizes of respondents are likely to be small and people who are unhappy are more likely to respond than those who are happy with a practitioner.
“A small number of disgruntled patients could unfairly smear the reputation of a good practitioner. Also, consumers find it difficult to meaningfully compare prices. Glasses may be expensive because they are of high quality or they may be expensive because of other factors. It is very hard for a lay person to distinguish.”
“The effect will not be consistent across the profession and is more likely to have an effect where NIB has most customers. NIB claim the site will provide feedback to providers but that will be difficult where all parties apart from the provider remain anonymous.”
Michael Jacobs, CEO of Eyecare Plus, who operate 180 optometry practices, is not convinced that the survey is in the best interests of eye health or that data will be analysed objectively. In a letter written to the CEO of nib, he said: “I note… that nib operate their own optical retail outlets in competition with Eyecare Plus practices and in fact in competition with all other non nib optical outlets… It is therefore of considerable concern to our members that nib, a competitor, are going to stand as judge and jury over our practices and publish the results to unsuspecting patients with no independent oversight.
In fact you already operate with a built in bias – an Eyecare Plus patient who is insured with NIB will get a greater insurance rebate at an nib optical outlet than at a non NIB approved outlet for the same product. How can our practices be judged on price when they can never win with this built in bias.”
“I am amazed that the area which should be of most concern to a health insurer, the area of your members, eye health is not even considered in this comparison you plan to publish. This omission only serves to re-confirm our member’s fears that this is simply a retail strategy on behalf of nib optical retail.”
Mr. Jacobs is concerned that, based on price and customer service, the ranking system will promote some optical providers over others but Mr. Neat disputes this: “We’re not recommending any providers as such. We’re providing a comparison tool for customers to make their own decisions. The survey asks about the whole experience – how they found the chair manner and so on.”
OAA National President Michael Knipe says it would be difficult for nib to be equitable in providing high ratings for non-aligned NIB optometrists.
“It would take a very strong and ethical organisation to resist the temptation of presenting competitors more favourable than its own business or preferred providers. It is hard to imagine that NIB would continue the Whitecoat website if it were to present optometrists aligned with NIB as being lower in customer estimation than other practitioners,” said Mr. Knipe.
Mr Neat says that under the company’s ancillary benefits scheme, “members access a percentage rebate system – of up to 50 – 75 per cent back on their costs of care.” That means individual optical dispensers can charge as they wish and members will be rebated a percentage of the cost, according to the health insurance plan they are on.
nib has preferred ancillary provider agreements with optometrists and dental practitioners at nib Dental & Eye Care Centres and Pacific Smiles Dental Care Centres. However, the company claims the number of ancillary providers preferred by nib represents just “0.2 per cent of all providers who have a Service Charge Score published on Whitecoat.”
The company acknowledges that “preferred ancillary providers are more likely to receive a higher Service Charge Score on Whitecoat due to discounted rates nib has negotiated with these ancillary providers.”
That aside, Mr. Neat says it’s up to customers to work out who they want to use, based on the optometrist’s value proposition, choice, service and so on. “This isn’t about pushing members through an nib service provider, it’s about empowering members to make choice,” said Mr. Neat.
Mr. Jacobs believes the initiative is being driven by nib’s desire to maximise returns for shareholders of the publicly listed company. He says it’s about “Minimising health care costs to minimise members’ insurance premiums, in an effort to get more members on board, (and in doing so), maximise profits for shareholders.”
The pilot program for whitecoat is expected to run for three months before being publicly launched. Nib has stated that it will work with ancillary providers and national peak bodies to “ensure the site provides a fair, meaningful and balanced service”.