Health care academics are calling for outsourcing of some specialist services after a study found patients are willing to pay $100 to reduce queue time for a specialist consultation by two weeks. A team of researchers from the University of Hong Kong's department of community medicine surveyed 6,500 patients on the waiting list of specialists clinics at four public hospitals - Queen Mary, Kwong Wah, Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern and Caritas Medical Centre - between July 2000 to October 2001. 'Based on these findings we know that the queues are quite long and there is excess capacity in the private sector,' said Gabriel Leung, professor of the department of community medicine. 'Because the waiting time is so long, three quarters of them would essentially give up queueing in the public hospitals and go to the private sector. They doctor-shop, and for that they need to pay several hundred dollars. 'What we are saying is, let the money follow the patient. If the Hospital Authority outsources some of the specialist services, you can shorten waiting time for the rest of the people in the queue, your default appointments because of doctor shopping will be reduced and it therefore will eliminate operational inefficiencies. 'You can then redress some of the public-private imbalance because it will shift back some of the market shares.' Information was collected through hospital databases, phone interviews and referral letters. The findings show 74.5 per cent of respondents were willing to pay a median of $100 to reduce queue time by two weeks. Four per cent were willing to pay more than $500. The median household income of the respondents was $12,500. The study also found that those willing to pay more were also most likely to doctor-shop. 'Based on this preliminary evidence, we propose the further examination of a new policy of outsourcing some specialist care services to the private sector to improve allocative and technical efficiency,' the research team said. The team said operational costs were lower in the private sector. While each specialist consultation costs about $661 in the public sector, it costs $500 in the private market. The study found 75 per cent of patients perceived the maximum reasonable waiting period to be one month. But only 28 per cent were treated within a month. Medical Association president Choi Kin said reducing waiting times by two weeks meant very little to patients. 'At present, waiting times for many public specialists' clinics now exceed one year. Cutting it by two weeks does not mean much,' he said.