An internal investigation has cleared a University of Hong Kong ophthalmologist of any wrongdoing after he billed a patient HK$680 despite never seeing him face to face.
HKU's Li Ka-shing Faculty of Medicine set up a panel of inquiry under Professor Felice Lieh Mak to investigate an anonymous complaint last year against Professor David Wong Sai-hung.
"Under law and medical ethics, [Wong] is entitled to charge - it's like that around the world," Lieh Mak said after the investigation. "The key is to focus on the well-being of the patient. In this case, it was an acute emergency."
Lieh Mak said the patient had suffered the symptoms of a detached retina, a condition that could lead to partial or complete blindness if not treated quickly. After a referral by e-mail from an ophthalmologist in Shanghai, Wong said he would be unable to see the patient in person but referred him to his subordinate, Dr Danny Cheung Ning, who diagnosed the detached retina.
The patient was given the choice of waiting for Wong to do the surgery - with no certainty that an operating theatre would be available - or immediate surgery from another specialist. He chose the latter option. After a successful operation, he wrote an e-mail of thanks to Wong.
Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam billed the patient HK$680 for the consultation with Wong, of which HK$225 was due to the doctor, who could choose whether to take the money or give it to his department.
The panel also ruled that Cheung, who held a limited registered licence and could only practice within the university and Queen Mary Hospital, had done nothing wrong. His licence allowed him to spend up to 10 per cent of his time with private patients, Lieh Mak said.
"To have a senior resident put someone on his team on cases is normal and done in hospitals," said Lieh Mak.
HKU's dean of medicine, Professor Gabriel Leung, said the faculty would study the panel's report and take action if needed.
Wong holds honorary positions on the mainland and in Britain. He was appointed assistant dean for human capital last year and is leading a recruitment drive to staff HKU's future private hospital in Aberdeen, an expanded Queen Mary's and HKU's Shenzhen outpost.