Doctors are resisting raising fees, poll shows

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 May, 2006, 12:00am

Competition in the private market is growing as more leave public sector

Almost eight out of 10 private doctors in Hong Kong have not increased their fees in the past year, though some specialists have raised theirs by more than 20 per cent, a Hong Kong Medical Association study has found.

The fee survey, conducted last month, asked more than 700 private doctors if they had adjusted their charges over the past year.

The findings showed 78 per cent of respondents had not adjusted their fees, while 18 per cent had increased their charges. Only 4 per cent cut their fees last year.

The median charge for a consultation with a general practitioner is $180, while specialists generally charge $450 or $500.

Some specialists with practices in Central charge more than $1,000 for a consultation.

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, York Chow Yat-ngok, said earlier this month that private doctors and hospitals should be cautious about raising their fees, to avoid a sharp rise in insurance premiums.

Association president Choi Kin said Hong Kong doctors' fees had tended to remain stable.

'Although Hong Kong's economy is picking up, more and more doctors are joining the private market, which remains very competitive,' Dr Choi said.

About 300 doctors left the Hospital Authority in the past year, most entering the private sector. Dr Choi said surgical fees were on the rise because of the introduction of new technology such as microsurgery, which is generally more expensive than conventional surgery.

The association's vice-president, Chu Kin-wah, said patients were increasingly opting for keyhole surgery, which is less painful, creates smaller wounds and scars, and enables patients to recover more quickly.

Dr Chu, a private surgeon, said in general keyhole surgery was a third more expensive than conventional surgery.

For example, the surgeon's fee for the removal of a colon tumour by open surgery costs $30,000 to $40,000. The price for keyhole surgery is between $40,000 and $50,000.

'Apart from a rise in fees for microsurgery, most surgeons in Central, as far as I know, have not raised their fees for the past one or two years. The market remains very competitive; many doctors have left public hospitals to become solo practitioners,' he said.

Tim Pang Hung-cheong, the Society for Community Organisation's spokesman for patients' rights, said the price of private specialists was beyond the reach of many patients.

He said the imbalance between the cheap but slow public health-care system and the efficient but expensive private market was unhealthy. 'Most patients cannot afford to pay more than $500 or $600 for a specialist consultation, and they end up having to go back to the public hospitals to wait for a year for an operation.

'Medical services are not a commodity and we cannot rely solely on market forces to set the prices. We need better health care financing to help patients afford more private services.'