New top dog at the Professional Services Review

3 minute read

Dr Antonio Di Dio has finished up an almost two-year stint with the Medicare watchdog, during which time the agency’s no-further-investigations findings have increased three-fold.

Former Department of Health and Aged Care senior medical advisor Dr Sarah Mahoney has succeeded Dr Antonio Di Dio as acting director of the Professional Services Review.

Dr Mahony, who does not have a fellowship listed on her AHPRA registration, was previously a clinical academic at Flinders University and – according to LinkedIn – has worked across general practice, emergency medicine, e-health and population health screening.

In November 2023, she presented on proper Medicare claiming at an RACGP webinar.

To say the PSR is somewhat unpopular with doctors would be an understatement. Multiple doctors have told The Medical Republic about the humiliation, shame and damage to their professional reputation that have risen as the result of a PSR investigation.

In 2022, a federal court justice likened the PSR to a “star chamber”.

Given this criticism, it may be comforting for some to learn that the incoming acting director was the lead author on a 2016 study on the importance of empathy in the way doctors communicate with one another.

The government’s staff directory lists Dr Mahoney’s end date in the role of Acting Director as 10 May 2024, when she will have been in the job for just a month.

TMR understands her appointment is likely to be extended beyond that date, especially given her predecessor was acting in the role for close to two years.

Until late last year, DoHAC was legally obligated to seek the AMA’s approval before it appointed a new PSR director.

This was largely symbolic; the association never exercised its veto right.

Still, if Dr Mahoney remains in the role on a permanent basis, she will be the first PSR director not to have been explicitly approved by the AMA.

In an email to RACGP members last week, college president Dr Nicole Higgins welcomed Dr Mahoney and praised Dr Di Dio for his service.

“Antonio has brought humanity and compassion to a difficult role at a distressing time for health professionals,” she said.

Under Dr Di Dio’s leadership, findings of no further action – which are essentially not-guilty verdicts – reached a seven-year high.

To put it into context, in the 2021 financial year the PSR decided on no further action around once in every 20 cases.

After Dr Di Dio came on board in 2022, it decided on taking no further action once in every five cases.

This financial year is shaping up as a slight backwards step, however.

According to the RACGP, the PSR has received 97 requests to investigate since June 2023.

Of these, 73 were settled through agreement between the director and the individual, 10 have gone through to the infamous committee-of-peers stage and eight have been closed with no further action.

If the trend holds steady, around one in every 12 cases will have been shut with no further action – a decrease from 2022 but still a marked increase on 2021.

Speaking at Senate Estimates in February, Dr Di Dio said 2024 was on track to be “one of [the PSR’s] busiest ever years”.

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