HKU set to tighten rules on charges by doctors

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 April, 2007, 12:00am

Medical fee waivers and donations under scrutiny

University of Hong Kong doctors could soon have to explain any waiver of private medical fees and declare if private funds or accounts conflict with the medical school's finances.

The recommendations are to be made by a four-member committee investigating billing arrangements for private patients at the university's medical faculty.

Sources said the committee, chaired by executive councillor Leong Che-hung, had decided to broaden its investigation. It would cover not only billing arrangements but also allegations that there had long been a lack of transparency and supervision in income from private donations and medical conferences.

One medical source said the inquiry was expected to make sweeping recommendations that would improve the financial governance of the faculty of medicine, and the whole university.

'The committee is not only looking at one particular case but the whole system. If there are problems with monitoring of funds, it may be a problem for other departments and other faculties,' the source said.

The Legislative Council's health services panel will meet today to discuss the issue of private medical services at the two medical schools.

The University of Hong Kong set up the committee in January to investigate irregular billing at the department of medicine after the Hospital Authority received complaints from patients about double billing.

Queen Mary Hospital, the university's teaching hospital, first discovered the irregular billing in September. Sources said 'deflated' charges were put on some patients' official bills handled by the hospital administration, while classifications of operations on the bills were 'inconsistent' with the care descriptions in patients records.

The committee has referred the case to a law enforcement authority.

The income from private medical services at the two schools is shared with the Hospital Authority, with the universities taking 75 per cent.

Doctors have the discretion to waive up to 75 per cent of their fees.

'At present, there is no guideline for doctors on how to waive private patients' fees,' a medical source said. 'It has been a norm that university doctors provide free services to other doctors or their colleagues, but how far should this go? How about their colleagues' family members or friends? There should be clear guidelines, and doctors have to explain why a particular fee is waived.'

The source also said the committee had found problems outside the billing arrangements and decided to broaden the investigation.