Primary’s patient numbers ‘flatten’ after billing change
PRIMARY Health Care has experienced a drop in patient numbers following a decision to abandon universal bulk-billing and introduce patient co-payments at 16 of its larger practices last year.
The company’s half-yearly report revealed that, during the six months up until 31 December 2009, patient numbers had “flattened” when compared to the same period in 2008. The drop was attributed mainly to a quieter-than-expected flu season, but also to the company’s decision to introduce co-payments in just over one quarter of its 50 practices.
In May last year Primary managing director Dr Edmund Bateman said the Federal Government’s failure to adequately index MBS rebates had forced the company to abandon universal bulk-billing to sustain operating costs (Medical Observer, 22 May 2009).
At the presentation of the results in Sydney last week, Dr Bateman said while patient numbers had initially dropped, there had been a steady reversal of this trend.
“We’re at the stage where we’re on a downer because of the introduction of co-payments,” Dr Bateman told the Financial Review (17 February). “You have to hold your breath and wait for it [patient numbers] to come up.”
Practice management consultant David Dahm told MO the drop in patients was predictable but that numbers would soon rise again. He encouraged more practices to consider following suit.
“It is about how you introduce co-payments that makes a difference…When you introduce co-payments, there also has to be philosophical changes within the practice,” he said. “People become more discerning as soon as they have to pay just one dollar.”
Dr Bateman could not be reached for comment as MO went to press.