Private hospital's hefty bill leaves patient gasping

Doctor agrees to slash charges after woman objects to paying

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 March, 2013, 4:43am

When Bobbie-Ann Poulton went to the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital last year to stitch a gash in her foot, the bill came as a shock.

The charges for the 30-minute procedure - including suturing for eight stitches and other services - added up to HK$10,655.

"They did not tell me the expected fee. If they had warned me of the price I would definitely not have had it done," she told the South China Morning Post.

Complaints like these have put the spotlight on what critics say is a lack of transparency in charging at private hospitals, most of which do not provide a full list of charges for procedures.

A review by the Post found that most private hospitals do not provide comprehensive price information for simple procedures even upon inquiry.

Private health care may face reform soon. Last October, the health minister formed a steering committee to review their operations, and it is set to submit a report within a year.

Poulton, who cut her foot on a broken bottle while camping at Sai Wan two days earlier, refused to pay the bill and was further "gobsmacked" when the doctor offered to reduce it if she agreed to settle it immediately.

"OK, OK I'll change your bill to HK$6,000 if you leave now," she quoted the doctor as saying. "I was gobsmacked. This professional doctor had attempted to drop the price and bribe me to stop causing a fuss."

OK I'll change your bill to HK$6,000 if you leave now

The bill included HK$8,500 for suturing, HK$700 for an urgent consultation and HK$550 for the X-ray.

The hospital said staff at the registration desk had reminded Poulton before the consultation that she should ask the doctor about the fees before treatment. It was not its policy to adjust fees, but the staff would help remedy any dispute, a spokesman said.

Poulton also complained that she should have been charged HK$400 for the consultation instead of the HK$700 out-of-hours charge. The hospital said bleeding wounds were considered urgent and were charged at HK$700. It said the patient had paid HK$100 and the rest was still being sought.