Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Private general paediatric care availability in Melbourne

Marina Kunin A , Amy R. Allen A , Caroline Nicolas A and Gary L. Freed A B

A Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, 207 Bouverie Street, Carlton, Vic. 3053, Australia. Email: marina.kunin@unimelb.edu.au; amy.allen@unimelb.edu.au; cnicolas@live.com.au

B Corresponding author. Email: gary.freed@unimelb.edu.au

Australian Health Review - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AH15218
Submitted: 13 November 2015  Accepted: 9 February 2016   Published online: 24 March 2016

Abstract

Objective The aims of the present study were to determine the actual availability of private general paediatric appointments in the Melbourne metropolitan region for children with non-urgent chronic illnesses and the cost of such care.

Methods A ‘secret shopper’ method was used. Telephone calls were made to a random sample of 47 private paediatric clinics. A trained research assistant posed as a parent, requesting the first available appointment with a specific paediatrician. Data regarding appointment availability, total potential charges and net charges after the Medicare rebate were collected.

Results Appointments were available in 79% (n = 37) of clinics, with 72% (n = 34) able to offer an appointment with the requested general paediatrician. The number of days until available appointments varied from same day appointments to a wait of 124 days, with an average wait of 33 days. Of practices that provided information about the appointment cost (n = 42), five bulk-billed for the consultation, whereas the remainder (n = 37) were fee-paying clinics. The potential maximum charge for an initial consultation in the fee-paying clinics ranged from A$177 to A$430, with an average cost of A$279. The potential maximum out-of-pocket cost for patients ranged from A$40 to A$222, with an average out-of-pocket cost of A$128.

Conclusions Private paediatric care in the Melbourne metropolitan region is generally available. The out-of-pocket cost of private paediatric out-patient care may present a potential economic barrier for some families.

What is known about the topic? In Australia, out-of-pocket expenses for private specialist care are not covered by private health insurance. There are no data available on the actual cost of private paediatric consultations that are based on real-time assessments. Data collected in 1998 suggested that the average waiting time for a first standard consultation with a general paediatrician in a private room was 14.1 days. There are no recent empirical data on appointment availability and waiting time for appointments with general paediatricians in Australia.

What does this paper add? There is high availability of paediatric consultations in the private sector. Waiting times for an appointment vary considerably from same day appointments to a wait of 124 days, with an average wait of 33 days. The cost of a private paediatric consultation in Australia to the patient is considerable, with an average potential maximum up-front charge for an initial consultation of A$279 and an average potential maximum out-of-pocket cost of A$128.

What are the implications for practitioners? Data on the availability and cost of private paediatric consultations are imperative to formulate evidence-informed policy and better understand variations in the availability of public and private care.


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