President’s Blog: Slur on doctors totally unwarranted | AMA (WA)


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President’s Blog: Slur on doctors totally unwarranted

Friday October 21, 2022

Dr Mark Duncan-Smith, AMA (WA) President

When you are an active member of an organisation devoted to elevating your profession, such as the AMA (WA), you can get blindsided by criticism, or even dismiss it out of hand, because of your own perceptions of your colleagues.

It’s a fine balance: look over your shoulder for trouble, or believe in the inherent high standards that you are generally surrounded by. As ever, the balance must be dealt with, as real problems do emerge and must be dealt with.

Of course, there’s the thorny question of what amounts to a real problem and what doesn’t.

This week the medical profession has come under intense scrutiny because of a media investigation into the alleged systemic, systematic rorting of Medicare.

The figures being quoted are to the tune of about $8 billion a year, or nearly 30 per cent of Medicare’s annual budget.

The AMA’s statement this week on the matter gets to the nub of it: “These claims are an unjustified slur on the medical profession, with the vast majority of doctors doing the right thing by their patients and by Medicare rules.”

Here’s Immediate-past Professional Services Review (PSR) Director and current AMA (WA) Councillor Professor Julie Quinlivan on the matter, whose previous role at the PSR places her in a very strong position to judge the validity of the claims.

“When I saw that $8 billion figure, I thought ‘no way actually’. It just seems like too large a number,” she told medical news website The Limbic.

“There’s actually really profound evidence that there’s not widespread fraud.

“Can Medicare compliance be improved? Of course it can. But the way this has been reported is very sad and damaging.”

Having discussed this with council members and had many discussions on the topic, it’s clear that this sadness is shared by doctors everywhere, and there’s real anger over the potential damage to the reputation of all professionals due to the nature of the slur.

A typical response came from a prominent GP, explaining how their nursing rounds provided a vital service to the most vulnerable and complex patients. Not only is the work underpaid, the GP takes an actual financial hit.

This doctor is not atypical of how our members and the wider profession take their responsibilities, providing some of the most precious and awesome services anyone could give to another human being. An overwhelming majority of doctors are doing their very best in the complicated ecosystem that Medicare represents.

The same GP points out that there are indeed elements of waste, inefficiency and systemic Medicare problems that need addressing.

The AMA continues to work collaboratively with the Government and other participants in the health sector to make the system better, and has made a host of constructive policy suggestions to that effect. There is undoubtedly a way to provide better patient value and care, and a more equitable way to reward doctors for their exceptional service. The real waste is the time we’re taking to get on with it.