The AMA will this week send education material on informed financial consent (IFC) to more than 56,000 doctors nationwide in an effort to encourage greater openness between doctors and their patients about fees for medical care and procedures.
Informed financial consent means the patient is aware ahead of time of the medical fee they have to pay, as well as what, if anything, they can expect to recoup from Medicare and any private health insurance they might hold.
The AMA campaign - 'Let's Talk About Fees' - is supported by the Federal Government and was launched in Canberra today by Health Minister, Tony Abbott, and AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal.
Running for twelve months, the campaign is aimed to raise the IFC rate, already well over 80 per cent, to as high a level as possible given the difficulties of obtaining IFC for non-elective procedures.
Dr Haikerwal said the AMA is committed to ensuring that, whenever possible, patients will know exactly how much they have to pay for their medical procedure.
"Our aim is to get as close as possible to 100 per cent informed financial consent for elective cases, where there is adequate notice to enable this to happen properly," Dr Haikerwal said.
"We're talking about a face-to-face discussion between doctor and patient of all fees incurred for a procedure.
"While doctors need to be open with patients about their fees, we are also encouraging patients to ask their doctor about all the costs associated with their treatment.
"Achieving total IFC for all medical procedures performed in Australia would be an impossible task.
"Sometimes it's simply not possible for that to happen, especially in an emergency, or when the nature of a scheduled operation changes dramatically during the procedure.
"In disciplines such as pathology, anaesthesia, and for the work performed by surgical assistants, it is often difficult to predict the course or duration of many procedures or the need for diagnostic services.
"But in most areas of medical practice there is nothing to prevent a significant rise in the IFC rate."
Dr Haikerwal said IFC was not just the responsibility of doctors or patients, with the private health funds needing to do more to ensure their products deliver value for patients.
"Knowing the gap that patients must pay means knowing the fee charged and the benefit paid - and only the health funds know the latter and must inform their members," Dr Haikerwal said.
"The Government has supported a voluntary approach to increasing the rates of IFC and has been willing to work with the AMA to help make the 'Let's Talk About Fees' campaign a success."
Doctors around the country will from this week receive 'Let's Talk About Fees' posters, brochures and fact sheets for display in their rooms and for distribution to colleagues, staff and patients.