'Nothing wrong' with doc's separate billing for 2 illnesses

Adeline Kang was charged twice for a single consultation at Wee's Family Clinic & Surgery in Whampoa Drive.
Adeline Kang was charged twice for a single consultation at Wee's Family Clinic & Surgery in Whampoa Drive. PHOTO: ST FILE

MOH says private clinics' charges vary, after patient billed $40 for each ailment in one visit

When finance officer Adeline Kang went to her neighbourhood clinic to see the doctor about stomach pains and a sore throat, she was not expecting to pay more than $50 for the consultation fee.

The fees displayed at Wee's Family Clinic & Surgery in Whampoa Drive state that it costs $40 for a short consultation and $50 for a long one.

However, she was charged $80.

When the 41-year-old queried the cost, she was told it was $40 to address each medical issue. She also had to pay $32 for medicine.

As it was her third visit to Dr Wee Chee Chau for her sore throat, she had expected to be charged less because it was a follow-up visit for the same problem.

However, Dr Wee told The Straits Times there had been no mistake. "When you have two problems, it's like seeing a doctor twice," he said.

His fees vary according to the number of medical conditions, their complexity and the duration of the consultation, he explained.

Asked if there was a cap to the consultation fee, Dr Wee said: "I can't tell you offhand, but it won't be in the thousands of dollars."

He added that he is a family physician and not just a general practitioner, so his charges are higher.

A check with other clinics found that their normal practice is to charge for one consultation, no matter how many medical problems the patient has.

A spokesman for the Parkway Shenton chain said: "The consultation charge at our clinics ranges from $25 to $38 per visit.

"This is a one-time charge regardless of the number of ailments presented by our patients."

The Raffles Medical chain of clinics also said its clinics levy only one consultation charge per patient, regardless of the number of medical problems that need attention.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said there is nothing wrong with the way Dr Wee charges.

Its spokesman said: "GPs are private providers within our larger healthcare system. Clinic charging varies across clinics and patients, depending on multiple factors.

"These may include the complexity of the patient's condition, the length of consultation, the type of treatment and medication provided, and the cost structure of the clinic, including rental and other overhead costs."

But she added that clinics are "encouraged" to display their common charges, like consultation fees, prominently in their clinics and provide itemised receipts to patients.

However, a clinic is not obliged to charge patients the amount stated in its table of fees. The MOH spokesman added: "Clinics have the prerogative to deviate from displayed charges, where justifiable."

Ms Kang said that she does not plan to visit the clinic again, even though her company picks up her medical tab.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline ''Nothing wrong' with doc's separate billing for 2 illnesses'. Print Edition | Subscribe