University criticised for billing loopholes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2007, 12:00am

Guidelines promised on hospital fees

The University of Hong Kong has been criticised over loopholes in billing procedures for granting professional fee waivers to private patients at Queen Mary Hospital that make it difficult to detect if doctors have pocketed part of the bills.

The criticism was contained in an independent audit report commissioned by the Hospital Authority.

Hospital Authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk said yesterday the authority would draft clearer guidelines on granting waivers jointly with the university and upgrade the computer system to keep better records on private patient billings.

The measures were proposed after the independent auditor found three major weaknesses in the private patient billing system at public hospitals: incomplete billing cycles, poor fees and charging policies and practices, and unclear professional fee waiver arrangements.

The report, released yesterday, revealed that Queen Mary Hospital, the University of Hong Kong's teaching hospital, was not informed of the criteria established by the university for its staff in granting professional fee waivers to private patients.

The report also said the private patient billing system at the hospital did not have effective checks to ensure all private patients were billed for procedures performed in the period prior to last September.

It said the previous requirement for staff to enter only limited information on manually prepared billing forms had restricted the hospital's ability to routinely check that the fee was appropriate.

'Based on the report's recommendation, we will work with the university to draw clearer guidelines on professional fee waiver arrangements,' Mr Wu said. 'Also, we are upgrading our computer system. We expect to record all patients' medical records and bills by computer by the fourth quarter of next year.'

The report said the current system already provided a reasonably effective means to prevent possible fraud, though there was still room for improvement, Mr Wu said.

The report recommended that the authority should check medical records against private patient billing records and speed up billing.

The investigation started in March after the former medical dean of the University of Hong Kong, Lam Shiu-kum, resigned amid controversy over the billing of private patients at the school.

In the same month, the authority referred a case to an unnamed law enforcement authority. Mr Wu refused to disclose more details yesterday.

A spokesman for HKU's medical faculty welcomed the recommendations in the report.

He said the faculty would work closely with the Hospital Authority to improve the billing system for private patients.

Sick notes

Fees paid by private patients to HKU and Chinese University in 2006-07 (in HK dollars): $64.9m