Consumer Ombudsman demands that health care giants state service prices openly

How much does a doctor’s appointment cost? This information, among other things, will be much easier to find on private health care services’ websites in the future. By the demand of the Consumer Ombudsman, Terveystalo, Mehiläinen and Pihlajalinna have committed to providing essential information, such as the price, on the service to be reserved on their website clearly and in a timely manner.

The Consumer Ombudsman has taken notice of the fact that not all information required by the Consumer Protection Act, such as the price of the service, is always provided in the online appointment booking system of private health care services. Finland’s three largest health care sector actors, namely Suomen Terveystalo Oy, Mehiläinen Oy and Pihlajalinna Oyj, which were the target of the Consumer Ombudsman’s enforcement measures, have all promised to implement the changes demanded by the Consumer Ombudsman on their websites.

”Price is one of the most important details that affect consumer decision-making. Without information on how the price is determined, it may be impossible for the customer to assess whether they can afford the service in question and whether the price is reasonable in relation to the content of the service or services provided by others.”

Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen

The Consumer Ombudsman required health care service companies to provide clear and timely information on the price of the service to be reserved or the grounds for determining the price (for example, €/hour) in their online appointment booking process. If the appointment booking requires strong electronic identification, the price of the service must be provided before this.

The price must be stated on the website in the same section where the service is booked or purchased. It is not sufficient that the information is available in another part of the website, such as the general price list. The price must also be visible in the booking view itself and not, for example, behind a link. It should not be necessary to search for essential information separately.

If a specialist’s role affects the consumer’s position, it must be stated

In the private health care sector, it is common that specialists work either in an employment relationship with a health care service company or as self-employed health care professionals. If the position of the specialist affects the position of the consumer, it is important that the consumer is informed of this. Such an effect could be, for example, that the consumer could not file a complaint directly with the health care service company after dealing with a self-employed professional.

”If the contractual partner is not indicated clearly, there is a risk that, for example, the consumer will not know who to turn to when they encounter a problem, and different parties may even try to circumvent responsibility for the matter.”

Consumer Ombudsman Katri Väänänen

The Consumer Ombudsman emphasised to the health care service companies that if a specialist’s role also affects the consumer’s position and rights, this should be clearly communicated to the consumer when they are booking the appointment. However, if the consumer’s position remains the same regardless of the specialist’s role, it is sufficient that the matter is explained in, for example, the contract terms.

Similar problems permeate the sector

Although only three companies were subject to the enforcement measures, the Consumer Ombudsman has also observed the same shortcomings more broadly in the private health care sector in terms of the provision of information.  For this reason, the Consumer Ombudsman has prepared instructions for the entire sector in Autumn 2023 regarding the issues processed during these enforcement matters. The instructions have been sent to organisations in the sector.