ONCE again, the territory's medical fees, particularly for specialist consultation and minor operations, have increased at a rate vastly out of step with inflation. Not all doctors charge the same fees for the same service and in some areas of medical service, notably in general practice, the median increase has been roughly in line with inflation. Nevertheless, the average visitor to the doctor is likely to come away feeling relieved of rather more than medical symptoms. It is time the medical profession took a closer, more critical look at what some of its practitioners are charging. It is true that specialists with their surgeries in prime office locations have seen their rents rise faster than the average. It is also true, as the Hong Kong Medical Association (HKMA) points out, that medical fees have traditionally risen faster than inflation (although that is hardly a justification for continuing to push them upwards). But the medical profession is on shakier ground in arguing fees are subject to market forces and urging patients to shop around. Few of us have the medical expertise to judge whether we are getting better value from one specialist than from another. In an emergency, or when symptoms are acute, even fewer patients are in a position to bargain or shop around. The insurers urge companies upgrade employees' insurance schemes regularly to take into account the higher charges. But that will do nothing to keep down prices. Companies which begrudge every cent's increase in employees' wages are hardly likely to accept higher-than-inflation rises in medical insurance. In general the loser will be the under-insured employee, not the doctor who charges first and checks insurance ceilings later. The medical profession should take the matter in hand itself or expect increasing public clamour for some outside body to take action for it. The least the HKMA should do is publish a schedule of recommended charges and require each individual practice to display its own charges in a prominent position. At present doctors are often less than open about the full cost of what is on offer. Prices are hard to compare by even the most cool-headed patient.