Health-care group Parkway lists prices of 30 procedures

Parkway Pantai group's Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital opened to the public on July 1, 2012. Parkway has released a price list of 30 common procedures at its hospitals based on patients' medical bills in the past year, in a move that could guard agai
Parkway Pantai group's Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital opened to the public on July 1, 2012. Parkway has released a price list of 30 common procedures at its hospitals based on patients' medical bills in the past year, in a move that could guard against overcharging and help patients make more informed decisions. -- ST FILE PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Doctor's fee to be separated from rest of bill; details on 4 hospitals' websites

Private health-care group Parkway Pantai has released a price list of 30 common procedures at its hospitals based on patients' medical bills in the past year, in a move that could guard against overcharging and help patients make more informed decisions.

Taking a step further than the Health Ministry's posting online of price information for mainly public hospitals, Parkway will also list the doctor's fee separately from the rest of the bill.

For instance, the median bill for cataract surgery at Mount Elizabeth Hospital is $4,610, of which $3,210 goes to the doctor. The remaining $1,400 goes to items such as the hospital stay, operating theatre fees and medical supplies used.

The list of 30 includes surgical procedures such as breast lump removal and tonsillectomy, and diagnostic or screening tests like colonoscopy and angiograms.

Parkway Pantai is Singapore's largest private health-care operator with four hospitals - Mount Elizabeth, Mount Elizabeth Novena, Gleneagles and Parkway East.

Currently, no other private hospital in Singapore publishes a breakdown of fees voluntarily, said Dr Lim Suet Wun, executive vice-president of Parkway Hospitals.

"Patients want peace of mind when they seek medical attention. We are addressing this by being more transparent with the estimated total costs, including doctor's fees," he told The Straits Times.

The move comes three years after surgeon Susan Lim, from Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, first faced disciplinary action for overcharging a Bruneian patient, who was billed about $25 million for seven months of treatment.

All four hospitals will carry the information on their websites.

Figures will be reviewed and updated from time to time, and also gradually expanded to include more procedures, said Parkway.

It also said the data is not intended to be price recommendations, which would contravene fair competition laws here.

The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Health, Dr Lam Pin Min, welcomed the move as an "encouraging start". The GPC had earlier recommended that better information on professional and hospital fees be made public as a check on medical costs.

Accurate financial information can also help patients make more informed decisions, said Dr Jeremy Lim, principal consultant of Insights Health Associates.

"The figures will be useful reference points for doctors in setting fees, as well as for various regulatory bodies in handling complaints of overcharging," he noted.

Agreeing, urologist Ho Siew Hong from Gleneagles Hospital said patients need not "shop around" at different clinics now to compare prices.

But doctors said the list could exert an unintended influence on what they consider a fair price.

Said cardiologist Kenneth Ng at Mount Elizabeth Novena: "If it is too costly, the doctor may run into problems with the patient."

A doctor's fee comprises many variables, including skill level and experience, techniques used and the quality of medical devices, even for something as common as cataract surgery, noted ophthalmologist Au Eong Kah Guan of Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.

"In health care, it is difficult to compare bill sizes side by side," he said.

But patients welcomed the move, as the fear of high costs can delay treatment, said restaurant owner Kang Seok Lan, 48, who has gone to both public and private centres for eye problems.

"Some people dare not go to a private doctor because they are afraid it will be too expensive," she said. "Instead, they join the long queue at public centres."

Dr Lam, however, said that ultimately, choosing a doctor is not just about price. "Patients need to be comfortable with their health-care provider, and the doctor-patient relationship is critical in building the trust that no financial element can determine."

chpoon@sph.com.sg