The college's actions stand to cause quite a bit of damage to other businesses, with which it technically competes
In the letter to all his members this morning, the president of the RACGP, Bastian Seidel, whom I’ve always found a very thoughtful and considered individual, said that the piece I wrote last Friday asking if the RACGP might run aground on the ACCC with its education changes, was misguided, a mix of “fact, fiction and rumour” that was published “without clarification or substantiation”.
I seemed to have missed the mark with my intended message to the senior management of the College by fair distance. I had meant to alert them and others to a couple of potentially important issues that affected them, their clients (the CPD providers) and their customers (GPs). Let me explain in a little more detail.
At the time I wrote the piece, we had been told the RACGP was going to be the subject of quite a few complaints to the ACCC. The question then becomes, would the ACCC investigate and what could that mean? And is there anything that could be done to stop it?
If there were to be an ACCC investigation that would not be good for anyone. Apart from anything else, such investigations are detailed, exhausting and if ultimately avoidable, a waste of precious resources for an organisation like the College.
I get the feeling, though, that the RACGP thinks it won’t or can’t be investigated. I’ve done a bit of calling around to a few competition lawyers and even to the ACCC itself, and everyone I spoke to said there wasn’t anything to suggest that it could not happen. The RACGP is a commercial organisation (you don’t have to be “for profit” to qualify), that competes with a lot of companies out there who have been adversely affected, and it has extraordinary market power, particularly given it is the body responsible for accrediting most of these education providers.
But quite apart from the ACCC hoo haa, there are some important questions for a few stakeholders here, including GPs and their patients. For example:
- Will the new fees knock out some of the NGO providers, as some of them have claimed to us, and by doing so, force GP education into being far more concentrated around pharmaceutical company content and topics, than it already is? The NGOs take on the hard work of doing the topics that are important but not important to the pharmaceutical companies. Knock them out and the whole system weights further the wrong way and GP education is surely adversely affected.
- Does the RACPG have a duty of care to work better with the 450 or so commercial CPD providers it accredits, who have built their businesses over the years around the framework that the College provides them every three years? Apparently in the past the college has released draft guidelines for comment and consultation prior to setting the rules in concrete. Not this time. Is that fair? Or a good process? Some providers are GPs themselves. One I’ve spoken to is quitting the college for good and going to ACRRM. That’s not a productive outcome for either party as this person does a lot of good education for GPs and is an important nexus between the commercial world and the world of GP needs.
The RACGP has said that the question of market power raised in the article last week is misguided because it is required to set professional standards for GPs for things such as ongoing professional development by the Australian Medical Council (AMC). That’s true. But the AMC isn’t there for the minutiae of how it does that, and if it does it in a way that destroys small businesses and potentially shifts the weight of education even more towards pharmaceutical company funded topics, would the AMC necessarily be happy about that? If the AMC gets to review this stuff after the horse has bolted, is that going to help anyone?
Would the AMC be happy if the ACCC does investigate the RACGP? I doubt it.
It’s certainly an available option for the watchdog to take action if it thinks that things are amiss in the continuing professional medical education market. And a market it most certainly is. There is lots of competing companies, the RACGP one of them.
What might spark that? Well, all I did in that article was tick off all the tests on the ACCC website and see how the RACGP faired. I don’t think they did that well. But as I said in that piece, I’m not the competition lawyer.
However, I tend to feel that whether the college is in breach or not isn’t the the key issue. The issue is that there are whole lot of people who de facto work for GPs providing education who are clearly hurting. And the College doesn’t seem to be taking a great deal of notice. In fact, it is making a lot more money from new fees, which don’t seem to be easily justified.
The RACGP is not likely to be trying to deliberately gain a commercial advantage through its actions, which the RACGP might say is a defence. It is a well-meaning organisation generally. It is trying to improve standards. But its actions stand to cause quite a bit of damage to other businesses, with which the RACGP technically competes. Just because the RACGP is well meaning doesn’t mean it can’t accidentally do bad and fall back on the AMC to justify it. And if it does, it doesn’t mean a regulator, like the ACCC, can’t seek to correct it.
If the RACGP weren’t a competitor of all these commercial providers, then things might be a bit more simple. But there is a very clear “technical” conflict of interest here for the RACGP. Perceived or otherwise.
I don’t want an argument with RACGP. So I’m not going to call the college on making claims about my professional standards. But I didn’t actually make any unsubstantiated claims. So perhaps don’t be so harsh on the messenger here.
For the record, I didn’t myself contact the RACGP for the piece I did and I do think that College President Dr Bastian Seidel makes a reasonable point. I was out of time on a Friday afternoon, and, my colleague, who was doing a story on the same topic and was sitting next to me, had contacted the college and spoken at length with Dr Seidel.
I thought that would out any issues on my piece around the ACCC. It didn’t and I apologise for that.