Patients can now have an idea of how much private sector surgeons charge for their services, and perhaps even negotiate a better rate.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) has started publishing private hospitals' operation fees. It gives a breakdown of the bill for various procedures - the surgeon's fee, the anaesthetist's charge and the cost of the facility such as use of the operating theatre.
The ministry yesterday said making the information public will increase fee transparency and help patients make informed decisions.
The move sheds some light on what is currently an opaque area.
There are no fee guidelines for doctors. Many private specialists fix their own fees, which could differ greatly between two surgeons operating in the same hospital. In general, half the cost paid by patients goes to the surgeon.
As a result, there have been cases of doctors overcharging, the most prominent being surgeon Susan Lim's bill for seven months of cancer treatment in 2007 for a member of the Bruneian royalty, amounting to $24.8 million.
The fees put up by MOH are based on data submitted by hospitals between July 1, 2014 and Dec 31 last year. They are a range, with the lower amount reflecting the 25th percentile charged and the higher amount, the 75th percentile. This means a quarter of patients pay less than the lower amount, and an equal proportion pay more than the higher rate.
So, for instance, to remove the appendix, half the patients in the private sector pay $9,928 to $13,128, with the surgeon pocketing $4,500 to $6,420 of this sum.
So a patient who pays his surgeon more than $6,420 for this procedure will know that the price falls in the top 25 per cent range.
The move by MOH was welcomed by Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, who has raised the issue in Parliament.
Dr Chia, an orthopaedic surgeon at Singapore General Hospital, said it would help both patients and doctors in financial discussions.
If the doctor is charging a lot more than the range given, then he will have to explain the reason to the patient, he said. It could be because of the doctor's greater experience, or because the case is more complex.
The ministry said: "Such information will enable patients who are considering treatment at private hospitals to estimate the fees charged by the doctors and the hospital for the various listed procedures."
The list of common procedures for which the ministry publishes operation fees has also been increased from 65 to 141. The data will be updated annually on its website.
The MOH started publishing bill sizes in 2003, beginning with only public sector facilities.