Market forces cannot set price of medical care

The Singapore Medical Association introduced fee guidelines in 1987 for doctors in the private sector - to act as a restraint on their charges as they run profit-making practices and interact with patients from a position of advantage.

With the abolishment of these points of reference, some private medical practitioners threw self-restraint out the window.

The result is the current astonishing cost of medical services in the private sector.

Medical care must not be wholly dependent on market forces.

The sick are at the mercy of doctors, as they may not be in the correct frame of mind, or possess the time or knowledge to compare prices.

Unscrupulous doctors know they are in a position to charge whatever they fancy, preying on their patients' fear and misery.

Some doctors make use of the fee-for-service model - which offers unbundled services that are paid for separately - to offer more non-surgical treatments because payment is dependent on the quantity of care given.

Even though young doctors are often reminded by their mentors to always be guided by their conscience when managing patients, private hospitals and pharmaceutical companies offer all manner of incentives to entice physicians to order ineffective tests and prescribe more medicine than necessary.

Hence,the introduction of new fee benchmarks is a positive step (Support for move to have medical fee benchmarks; Dec 1).

The formal benchmarks will serve to sieve out the black sheep in the profession, who believe the sky is the limit when it comes to charging their patients.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2017, with the headline 'Market forces cannot set price of medical care'. Print Edition | Subscribe