Empowering patients to make informed choices

  • Over half of Australians have private health insurance[1]

  • Only 20 per cent of people, on average, in NSW use their private health insurance at hospital emergency departments

The Ministry of Health wanted to help patients make more informed choices about whether they should use their private health insurance when being admitted to hospital from an emergency department. They reached out to us to help them.

Making a change

We partnered with Westmead Hospital in 2013 to try new ways of communicating with patients about using their private insurance in emergency departments at public hospitals. Westmead Hospital is one of NSW’s largest public hospitals - around half of all admitted patients come through the emergency department. However, in 2013 only 16 per cent of these patients used their private health insurance, compared to the state’s average of 20 per cent.

The team talked with patients and hospital staff to better understand why people were not using their private health insurance.

They found that patients:

  • were concerned about out-of-pocket costs

  • didn’t understand the benefits of using private health insurance - for patients or the hospital

  • found using their private health insurance more complicated and difficult than being a public patient.

Knowing this, in consultation with hospital staff, we:

  • simplified the process for people to use their private health insurance

  • trained hospital staff to clearly communicate to patients that they would not be out of pocket if they used their private health insurance

  • trained hospital staff to communicate the benefits for patients, hospital and the community

  • increased awareness of extra benefits, like newspapers and toiletry bags

  • used a proportion of the revenue generated from people using their private health insurance to purchase equipment for the emergency department.

These changes were trialled for six months at Westmead Hospital starting in August 2013. The trial resulted in more people using their private health insurance, from 16 to 18 per cent. While the increase might seem small, it resulted in an additional $1.6 million in revenue and cost savings for the hospital.

Scaling the trial

The trial was replicated in Auburn and Fairfield Hospitals. Like Westmead, both hospitals had low use of private health insurance. We introduced similar changes and saw similar results. The three trials at Westmead, Auburn and Fairfield Hospitals generated $7 million in additional revenues and cost savings over the time of the trial.

Lessons learned from these trials have been shared with other local health districts and hospitals in NSW.