Move to curb overcharging by doctors more complex than it looks

When the Ministry of Health starts taking action against doctors for unnecessary investigations and overtreatment of patients, we will see how legally complex and nuanced the whole situation actually is (Doctors warned against overcharging, overtreating; March 20).

Even when the benchmark of what constitutes reasonable fees is established this year, other factors will have to be taken into consideration before a fair judgment can be passed.

These include the experience of the doctor, the complexity of the case, the doctor's own material and psychological costs in delivering the service, and other circumstances - including whether the defendant can get other doctors to concur with the high charges (and most empathetic doctors called to testify will).

And, with doctors also running the risk of being found guilty of not being thorough in their investigations of patients, a charge by the Singapore Medical Council about doctors practising defensive medicine is only going to get the practitioners' collective backs up.

Meanwhile, the authorities have admitted that there is no prohibition against hospitalising patients for what can be done as day surgery.

A procedure that costs only a few hundred dollars if done in a general practitioner's clinic can swell to a few thousand dollars with hospitalisation, which insurance will then cover.

Unnecessary hospitalisation, be it in a private or public facility, simply for the sake of claiming fees from insurance firms, wreaks havoc on the insurance pool and is a financial carnage that must be stopped.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2018, with the headline 'Move to curb overcharging by doctors more complex than it looks'. Print Edition | Subscribe