Distorted picture of Hong Kong vets' fees

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2013, 3:52am

I refer to the report ("Top doctor questions sky-high HK vet fees", January 7).

I found it bafflingly selective and lacking in objectivity in its price comparisons, particularly as the main protagonist might be expected to have an understanding better than most, having been a medico who has spent some time working in veterinary practice regulation and oversight.

Or perhaps this is actually why he was able to choose a few unusual situations where the apparent pricing seems unreasonably higher in veterinary medicine. The reality is that, compared to human medical care, the vast majority of charges for equivalent work and skills are far lower in veterinary medicine. For every distorted or misrepresentative example in the article, as a practising vet (cat/dog medicine), I could give a dozen real examples at the other end of the scale - such as a back surgery routinely costing HK$200,000 to HK$400,000 for a human being compared to HK$20,000 to HK$40,000 for a dog.

Dr Chow Pak-chin, vice-president of the Medical Association, says he "doesn't know how an operation on a dog would be more complicated and difficult than performing surgery on a human".

I find this surprising coming from an ophthalmologist. Cataract surgery for a dog is far more complicated, not just because of the need for general anaesthesia and paralysis, but also just because of the fundamental differences with dogs' eyes making the surgical procedure far more difficult, and the post-operative care far more complex.

While I am deeply sorry for Anna Wong Chi-han's loss, HK$25,000 for a nine-day stay for her dog in an animal hospital with multiple tests run would go nowhere near to the equivalent bill for a human being, which would almost certainly be 10 times that. My daughter spent two nights in hospital on a drip, had a simple six-part blood test done, no medication or other tests, and the insurance paid a HK$21,000 bill.

For dental treatment, we would be comparing apples to oranges, at least until the day we can convince our four-legged friends to sit in the chair with their mouths open while we treat them.

Veterinary fees in Hong Kong are in line with but generally lower than equivalent countries overseas. Vets here can make a reasonable living but I would encourage anyone wanting to get rich to choose a different profession.

Dr David Coyle, Tung Chung