Medibank Private enters a new era
Australia's largest national health insurer has taken its first step towards becoming a "member advocate" rather than just a bill payer.
The move will see Medibank Private actively assisting its members navigate their way round a complex health system as well promoting their well-being through a raft of new and practical services - including the provision of health information.
Phase one of the transformation will see the fund assisting its members access quality, evidence-based health information from the highly-regarded Cochrane Collaboration Consumer Network website.
The consumer arm of international research body - known as the Cochrane Collaboration - the Cochrane Consumer Network is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to providing consumers and health practitioners with the latest in medical research.
A consumer health information arrangement between Medibank Private and the Consumer Network now means that fund members will have access to this valuable body of research via the Medibank website.
The arrangement also signals Medibank Private's move towards what it sees as a new role for Australian private health insurance and marks its entr�e into the field of health information provision.
Says Medibank Private Managing Director, Mark Burrowes: "For some time now we have been strongly advocating that health funds need to be more than bill payers and that they need to provide customers with much greater value.
"We're now putting our money where our mouth is."
However, Mr Burrowes emphasises that private health insurance will remain Medibank Private core business.
He says the need to add value has been driven by the massive influx of Australians into private health insurance - particularly a much younger group of people - who are more inclined to both question and challenge the status quo.
During 2000, Medibank Private's membership grew by about 50 per cent, increasing its cover from 2 million Australians to just under 3 million.
Says Mr Burrowes: "According to feedback from our members, while they continue to expect things like easy access to the health system, greater control over their health decisions and choice of their doctor and hospital, they're also demanding that we provide them with more reliable information.
"Feedback shows that they want honest, unbiased, up to date information about their illness, its likely outcome and the risks and benefits of different interventions. "
Overseas trends show that the one of the greatest uses of the web is for health information - a trend that is likely to be replicated in Australia.
"In fact, Canadian data shows that 10-15 per cent of all patient encounters with primary care physicians involves patients who have already consulted the Internet."
However, Mr Burrowes cautions that Medibank Private in no way wishes to interfere with the role of doctors as health information providers. "Rather we wish to assist consumers ask the pertinent questions and discuss the relevant issues with their doctors.
"Ultimately, there is no real substitute for your own doctor's medical advice."
Traditionally the domain of medical practitioners and more informed consumers, the Cochrane research is now in the process of being "consumerised", with the over 1,000 medical reviews and health care trial reports being summarised into a simpler format which will make for easy consumption by the general public.
By the end of the year it is hoped that consumerisation of the research - being funded by Medibank Private - will be complete.
Consumerisation will allow easy access to information across a wide range of medical conditions in addition to the latest on medicine and drugs, surgery, alternate therapies, as well as lifestyle and dietary changes.
By June, the website will also include topical health information as well as useful tips and prevention measures, which will be updated on a monthly basis.
In addition to consumerised summaries, those entering the Cochrane website will also have access to longer transcripts with more detailed information.
According to the Cochrane Consumer Network's international convenor, Hilda Bastian, until now consumers have not had access to a wealth of high-quality and well-researched health information.
"While there are many health websites with an abundance of health and medical information, none can claim to have been as well researched and up to date as Cochrane.
"Similarly few, if any, can claim to have a site whose information is all evidence-based. What is meant by this is that all information has been stringently tested by the experts in the field, to separate the wheat from the chaff.
"Ultimately, only the best information has been summarised on the Cochrane website," she says.
Being privy to quality, evidence-based health information provides health consumers with more information to assist in making more informed decisions about their health.
Ms Bastian says by having a Medibank Private link, the Cochrane website will have far greater reach. Currently over 1,000 people visit the Medibank Private website daily - making it the most visited private health insurance site in Australia.
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