Don't go overboard with medical tests

I applaud the move by the Ministry of Health to increase the fee transparency of surgical procedures ("Listing of op fees at private hospitals helps patients"; last Thursday).

With the publication of private hospitals' operation fees, prospective patients will be able to ascertain if the charges are excessive or reasonable.

At the same time, the move acts as a deterrent to doctors who may be tempted to overcharge.

However, maintaining high ethical standards in the healthcare sector goes beyond fees.

Sometimes, doctors order tests and procedures that may be unnecessary and raise healthcare costs.

A balance needs to be struck between a doctor's due diligence in ensuring he does not miss anything in diagnosing a patient's condition, and in keeping costs in check and not overprescribing tests.

Perhaps doctors should do a detailed cost-benefit analysis with patients on each test they plan to order.

They should tell patients what the various tests and procedures they plan to order are expected to find or do, what the probabilities of the tests being positive are, what the risks of not doing the tests are, and the cost of each test.

Patients then have to decide for themselves if the cost of a test is worth it as it could help put their minds at ease, or whether they deem it unnecessary, and are willing to bear the consequences of not doing one.

Woo Jia Qian (Miss)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Don't go overboard with medical tests'. Print Edition | Subscribe