A national bulk-billing GP chain is demanding patients hand over their data or pay a private fee for medical appointments.
Our Medical — with locations in Victoria, NSW and Queensland — is requiring patients to join a rewards plan to access bulk-billed healthcare.
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The medical chain announced the new rewards program this year, promoting a free flu vaccine, $20 dental voucher, $20 physio voucher and local offers and discounts for patients who sign up.
But to access the rewards program, patients must sign up online or via the chain’s app — and hand their personal data over in doing so.
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Existing patients who wish to continue accessing Our Medical centres “will need to join the Rewards program”, Our Medical’s blog post on the rewards program details.
“Non-members will be charged a private fee to see a GP.”
The program comes despite the company claiming its “fundamental belief is that everyone deserves the right to quality healthcare, when, where and how they need it”.
Our Medical owner Cornerstone Health told consumer advocate Choice the program had been rolled out over the past nine months.
“There is no obligation on privately owned medical centres or practitioners to provide general practice medical services on a bulk-billing basis,” a spokesperson told Choice, when it raised the alarm this week.
“However, general practice medical services are available on a bulk billing basis at Our Medical to patients who have joined the Rewards Program. General practice medical services are available on a private billing basis to all other patients.”
However, Melbourne University Law School Professor Jeannie Paterson, co-director of the Centre for AI and Digital Ethics, was highly critical of the move.
“Some people simply don’t want their data aggregated,” she told 7NEWS.
Our Medical’s says non-members of its rewards program will now be charged to see a GP. Credit: 7NEWS
Paterson slammed the decision to exclude patients who did not wish to sign up.
“It’s not illegal to say that people who don’t use the app have to pay more,” Paterson said.
“But I think it’s ethically problematic.
“A clinic that bulk bills is really important to some people. Particularly in this time of rising costs.”
Customers had a right to be upset about the change, Choice’s Consumer Data Advocate Kate Bower told 7NEWS.
“These were patients who’d previously been bulk-billed by the clinic, and were now being told that they had to sign up to the rewards program or pay a $90 out-of-pocket fee in order to see a doctor,” she said.
Experts have slammed the move by Our Medical, saying customers have a right to protect their data. Credit: 7NEWS
Our Medical says its rewards program helps deliver better quality and accessible healthcare, promising to never use personal data for commercial purposes or share that data with third parties for financial gain.
No more information is captured through the rewards program than in the usual patient registration process, an Our Medical spokesperson told 7NEWS.com.au.
“One of the significant challenges of healthcare is capturing accurate and up-to-date information such as correct name, mobile number and email address.
“To enable us to do that, we’re putting it in the hands of the patient to ensure it’s accurate and kept up-to-date.”
The program also acts as a verification process as the centres are obligated under Medicare to verify patient identities, the spokesperson said.
“We handle all personal information in accordance with relevant privacy and health records legislation,” the spokesperson said.
‘Just have to trust’
“Unfortunately, at the moment we just have to trust what the businesses say,” Bower said.
“That they’re not going to use this information in this way.
-With Sara Jones
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