Business practices and medical professionals
Medical professionals who practise as private practitioners are regarded as a business.
Like all businesses, medical professionals need to make sure they don't engage in collusive or anti-competitive conduct.
Under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, medical professionals must work within the law to protect themselves and their patients while making sure they don't engage in anti-competitive conduct.
Treating patients fairly
All members of the medical profession must treat their patients fairly. This means ensuring informed consent by patients and not misleading them in any way.
Medical professionals have an obligation to ensure informed consent by patients. This means they must provide enough information for informed consent. This includes:
- communicating the risks, side effects and permanency of outcome. Any other aspects of the nature and quality of treatment should also be communicated
- alternative treatment options, and the consequences of not having treatment
- post-treatment care and potential complications
- charges, including for ancillary and add-on services.
Omissions may be crucial. While there is no general duty of disclosure under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, patients should not be given the wrong impression by omitting information.
Steps to treat patients fairly
Medical professionals can take actions to help make sure patients are treated fairly and aren’t misled.
- Use simple explanations, without jargon.
- Back up claims with facts.
- Correct any misunderstandings fully and promptly.
- Explain all possible alternative treatments and consequences.
- Explain whether a procedure is essential or elective.
- Advise of any actual or potential conflict of interest when referring a patient.
- Give patients full contact details of other medical professionals involved in their care.
- Maintain full and accurate patient records. This helps clarify and resolve any issues that might arise.
- Provide an estimate of a treatment when the exact cost isn't known. Include all relevant information and explain the limitations of the estimate.
- Explain all possible extra costs, such as specialist charges and rehabilitation costs.
Unfair business practices and anti-competitive conduct
Anti-competitive conduct is not permitted under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
Anti-competitive conduct includes cartel conduct, such as market sharing or price fixing. Medical professionals are also protected from the effects of anti-competitive conduct by other medical professionals or suppliers.
Anti-competitive behaviour includes conduct that:
- restricts the ability of other professionals to compete
- prevents medical practitioners from gaining the right to practice, beyond whatever reasonable restrictions are necessary to ensure quality.
To comply with the Act, members of the medical profession must not:
- require unreasonable or disproportionate credentialing or admitting rights at hospitals
- agree among themselves where they will or won't offer their services
- make agreements with associates or partners on patient fees or joint negotiations, unless they have gained an authorisation from the ACCC
- use their commercial position to subject another party to harsh or oppressive behaviour that results in excluding another party from the market.
Misleading patients and unconscionable conduct
Misleading conduct can affect patients physically, psychologically or financially. These effects can be long lasting.
It is essential that medical professionals give patients honest, accurate and complete information. It is also important that this information is given in a form they can understand.
Under the Act, members of the medical profession must not:
- mislead patients relating to fees, procedures or outcomes
- use misleading advertising relating to qualifications, area of expertise, fees, procedures or outcomes
- act unconscionably by deliberately taking advantage of patients who are disadvantaged by:
- ignorance of important facts that the medical professional knows, but the patient doesn’t understand
- financial problems
- infirmity or age
- lack of understanding of the nature of the transaction
- lack of assistance or explanation when these are necessary
- a lack of capacity to judge what is in their best interests. For example, English as a second language or lack of practical alternatives.
Misleading other businesses
Medical professionals must not mislead other businesses by misrepresenting:
- the quality, uses or benefits of goods or services offered. This includes sponsorship, approval, performance characteristics, accessories.
- that a business has a sponsorship when it doesn’t
- costs or fees
- credentials and areas of expertise.
Fees and rosters
There are specific requirements for setting medical fees and medical rosters under the Competition and Consumer Act 2010.
Under the Act, most medical professionals fees should be consistent with their practice structure.
Find out more about the requirements of fee setting by medical professionals.
Roster arrangements must meet certain criteria under the Act. Some roster arrangements may be considered anti-competitive and breach the Act.
Read more about medical rosters and complying with the Act.