In a speech delivered today to the Australian Medical Association in Melbourne, the Minister for Human Services, Joe Ludwig urged doctors to end the disparity between the large percentage of medical practices currently using an electronic claiming system and the small percentage of claims actually lodging claims with Medicare using such systems.
At present, 90 per cent of medical practices use an electronic claiming system but only 18.5 per cent of patient claims are being lodged electronically with Medicare Australia.
"Electronic claiming is a fundamental building block, as the health sector moves towards communicating electronically," he said. "In delivering these services, we're heading in the direction of less face-to-face contact between the customer and the Government for routine transactions."
The Minister added that the Government is using online and IVR telephony because they are more convenient for the customer and better value for the taxpayer.
"Business recognises that the online environment is where the market and consumers are heading for routine transactions, so, wherever we can conveniently do business online, we should."
Recent research for Medicare Australia found more than 80 per cent of patients who pay to see their doctor would like to lodge their claim electronically at the surgery. But precious few are provided the opportunity.
"The result" Ludwig said, "is that someone who sees a doctor has to then line up at a Medicare office to complete their claim where alternatives do exist.
"As a result, [Government] funds that could be going to subsidise a treatment, life-saving drug or procedure, are corralled into administration."
The Federal Government has committed a $56 million 'transitional support package' to support practices moving online, with $25.8 million having been paid to date.
Developers have also been offered financial assistance to stimulate the design, development and roll-out of integrated claiming systems, so a medical practice's preferred patient claiming technology can be integrated with their practice management systems.
Here come the auditors
The Minister said audits of electronic payment systems are necessary because "people make mistakes, aren't aware of the correct procedure or item numbers and a small percentage don't do the right thing and try to take advantage of the system through sharp practice."
Medicare Australia expects the increased audits will save $148 million over four years.
Acknowledging the importance of maintaining patient doctor confidentiality, the Minister stated that there is no general access to clinical or other records under the new proposal. It is limited to substantiating claims and details already provided.
"It is a delicate balance between the rights of individuals to privacy, the rights of doctors to treat patients confidentially and the rights of taxpayers to expect their funds are being spent appropriately," the Minister said.