The Federal Government of Australia has decided to crackdown on unethical doctors who accept gifts from pathological labs, in return for having patients shown their entrance.
This move follows the rocketing costs of pathological tests and burgeoning numbers of patients being ordered such tests.
According to the new law to be introduced to parliament this week, doctors can face up to 5 years in jail, in terms of prosecution for accepting bribes. In addition, if the charges against the doctors come with solid proof of their motives, civil sanctions against the doctor can also be stamped.
Pathology tests now cost the health system about $1.5 billion a year, compared to $1.09 billion in 1999-2000.
Pathologists, who can already face criminal prosecution under existing law, will now face the additional threat of civil sanctions.
This move designed to open another avenue of prosecution when it has been difficult to prove a clear link between doctors accepting gifts and the inappropriate ordering of pathology tests. The changes will also apply to diagnostic imaging.
There are speculations of other motives, other than monetary, as to why the number of tests being ordered on patients is soaring. Some attribute this to fear of litigation, by doctors in case of misdiagnosis.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Tony Abbott said the changes would specify that it was unlawful to offer or receive inducements of this nature — regardless of whether it can be shown that the intention was to encourage over-servicing.
In addition to this, the Government plans to introduce a bill amending the Health Insurance Act. Civil penalties start from $56,000 for individuals and $660,000 for corporations. The maximum criminal penalty is a five-year jail term, although a court can choose to impose fines of $33,000 for individuals or $165,000 for corporations.