Continuity of Care Q&A – Dr Marcus Tan

Doctor - Continuity of Care

As we have been trying to innovate in the health space we have trialled different ways to add value to patients and practices. We may not always get it right but the premise of our innovations have always been anchored in helping both patients and practices. We always take feedback from our users and customers on board and adjust accordingly.

In this follow up to my article on HealthEngine’s Continuity of Care Commitment, I want to address some of the questions, comments, and misconceptions I sometimes hear regarding our products and services, specifically on how the HealthEngine marketplace works.

How do I know patient data is safe and won’t be shared with third parties?

Let me start by reminding you that patients sit at the heart of everything we do which is why we build and provide technology solutions, for practitioners and their patients, to improve the healthcare experience overall. Patient trust is core to our business and as such we never share patient data with third parties without patient permission. To manage this we have a strict privacy policy in place which is in line with national privacy guidelines especially associated with health information.

We work with many partners such as government, private health insurers, medical research groups and not for profit organisations who on occasion have important information to disseminate to interested users. We observe a strict opt in policy where users only ever receive information they have expressed interest in receiving. We have not, and will never pass a patient’s details onto a third party without the patient’s express consent.

We take all reasonable steps to protect personal information from misuse, interference and loss from unauthorised access, modification or disclosure including physical security to our business premises; and procedures such as password protection, encryption and site monitoring.

I am a practice/provider and I don’t like the idea of your directory/marketplace pitting me against my competitors.

There is clearly some confusion around the role of consumer services like directories, and practice services like online booking systems. HealthEngine offers both services, and practices have the ability to use both or just one, depending on the services they require i.e. they are severable and can be used in conjunction with other services.

Consumer directories by their nature need to be comprehensive and present transparent information which allows patients to better choose healthcare services. It’s not about pitting one practice against another; it’s about presenting the factual information about who is where and what they offer. I started HealthEngine as a medical specialist directory to find which specialists did what, and where, so I could choose the best specialist to refer to as a GP. And to this day, I have not heard of any specialists complaining about being pitted against each other because they were listed in a directory. Similarly, I have not heard businesses complain about being listed among their competitors in other directories such as Yellow Pages – it is simply the way directories (and marketplaces) work.

How does your marketplace model support continuity of care?

The purpose of the marketplace is and always has been to help patients and practices connect. For patients who are new to an area or can’t see their regular GP for example, it can be challenging to find healthcare services in a timely manner. For practices, the challenge is on how to create public awareness that they are accepting new patients.

Historically practices would turn to activities like letterbox drops and local newspaper ads to promote their services. In today’s digital world however, more and more people are leveraging the web and technology to find information. The marketplace provides a modern solution, enabling patients to find health care providers more easily and practices to advise patients of openings in a more effective way.

While this technology may be viewed as new or emerging it is developed with the core fundamental of supporting continuity of care. At HealthEngine we encourage patients to ‘favourite’ preferred providers to maintain continuity of care and remain top of mind strengthening the patient to provider relationship.

The most recent BEACH (Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health) study indicates that new patient to practice consults is decreasing (from 9% in 2007 to 7% in 2016). Today, HealthEngine is a conduit for these new patient to practice relationships, but still, the majority of bookings  (85% on average) made through HealthEngine aid existing patients of practices to make appointments with their long term practice which we continue to support.

Why do you charge different marketplace fees for bulk billing practices and mixed billing practices?

Our unique “Patient Match” marketplace service allows practices to connect with patients, many of which are new to an area or can’t see their regular GP. When we created this service in 2012 it was very innovative and new. Back then, we weren’t completely sure that we could deliver any new patients to practices. Rather than charge a monthly subscription where practices would have to pay even if they didn’t get any new patients, we made a decision to take the risk on ourselves and developed it as a performance-based model, one where we’d only charge a fee to the practice when a new patient actually showed up at the practice it booked with. We would only get paid after the practice got paid which was also good for a practice’s cash flow. The question was then, how much is a new patient worth?

For many 100% bulk billing practices we were told that the value of a new patient was worth less than mixed billing practices and this is the reason we have a differential in pricing for delivering a patient to a 100% bulk billing compared to mixed billing practices.

We know that new HealthEngine-referred patients generally behave the same as patients you might receive from other marketing channels in that if you treat them well they will continue to be loyal and return for years to come. In fact, around 92% of HealthEngine users in post appointment surveys say they would recommend the practice they have attended, suggesting loyalty and satisfaction. Most of the very commercially astute practice owners I speak with have told me that in the whole scheme of the life time value of a patient and the patient’s family (valued in the thousands of dollars), the HealthEngine referral fee is actually a very fair and small price to pay for attracting that patient, particularly in light of our risk-free/performance based model. This is transparent and easier to calculate return on investment compared to other marketing services where it can be very hard to know whether it is successful or not and how much it costs to attract each new patient.

I’ve heard HealthEngine is controlled by large corporate companies. Who is behind HealthEngine?

HealthEngine is an independently owned and operated organisation. Whilst we have many shareholders, none have controlling interest. In fact, the single largest group of shareholders remains the founders, management team, and staff which allow us to lead and drive the business in line with our values.

As a practising GP for over 20 years, I have dedicated much of this time to caring for my own patients, previously running practices and trying to improve the health system as a whole. I have been amazed and humbled by the way our users and customers have continued to grow from very modest numbers to millions of Australians over the years. To think, I had two software developers in my lounge room to now have a team of 130 across 3 office locations nationally was unimaginable. I am very proud of our team and the dedication and passion we all share in trying to make healthcare better for everyone.

At HealthEngine we believe the health system is full of groups with vested interests resulting in the fragmentation of healthcare services. It is this belief that inspires us to design products and services that are patient-centric but provider-aligned. HealthEngine’s driving philosophy is to remain open and agnostic to all providers, payers and technology vendors. We are happy to work with all like-minded parties keen to help patients and healthcare providers and to ensure the health system is sustainable and of high quality. Having raised a significant amount of funding over the years has allowed us to invest in innovative products patients and practices love to use. We have also invested in systems and staff to better support our growing customer and user base.

What is HealthEngine’s future plan for product development and continuity of care?

With a growing number of staff across Australia, we are making significant investments into supporting and serving our customers and users. We are also making significant investments in improvements to our core products, and have several exciting new releases in the pipeline which we look forward to sharing in the coming weeks and months.

We are always keen to get feedback to adjust our products and services accordingly. I genuinely invite you to connect with me should you wish to offer feedback, discuss ideas, or raise any concerns with me.

Dr Marcus Tan, Founder, CEO and Medical Director

Marcus is a UWA medical graduate with an executive MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He is an experienced healthcare executive and company director with over 20 years of clinical and commercial experience. He is a Fellow of the AICD and serves on various health bodies including as a director and the eHealth Lead for the WA Primary Health Alliance, chairing the Metro South WA Primary Health Network, an executive council member of the AMA(WA), and is an Adjunct Associate Professor in Health Leadership & Management at Curtin University. He has previously held roles as a member of the Governing Council of the South Metro Area Health Service, a board director of Giving West and Chairman of Perth Central & East Metro Medicare Local.