SINGAPORE - Following its review of a patient's complaint about how much she was charged at a GP, the Ministry of Health noted that the consultation fee fell "within the range of charges displayed", but advised the clinic to review how it communicates its charging practice to patients.
In August, The Straits Times reported finance officer Adeline Kang's unhappiness over being charged $80 at her neighbourhood clinic, Wee's Family Clinic & Surgery in Whampoa Drive.
She had not expected to pay more than $50, based on the fees she saw displayed. She said that the clinic told her she was charged twice the rate for a short consultation - $40 - because she had two medical conditions.
The doctor, Dr Wee Chee Chau, later wrote to The Straits Times Forum page clarifying that it is clearly stated at the clinic that short consultations start from $40 and long consultations from $50, and the charges are "not a flat rate".
"In this particular instance, a single charge of $80 would be applicable for the long consultation involving two different conditions that each required equal and separate attention," he wrote.
It was not a separate billing for two ailments, but a single charge for a long consultation involving two unrelated conditions, he added.
On Monday (Sept 19), an MOH spokesman similarly noted that the charges displayed at the clinic stated that "a long consult could cost from $50", and the fee of $80 thus falls within such a range.
This was after the MOH and Agency for Integrated Care staff visited the clinic and interviewed the doctor, and got in touch with the patient - with her consent - to interview her.
Said the MOH spokesman: "It is not common for clinics to charge consultation fees based solely on the number of conditions that the patients have, and we would advise clinics against determining charges in this manner."
Based on MOH's review, Wee's Family Clinic and Surgery determines fees by considering how long a consultation lasts as well as how many conditions the patient has.
"The underlying basis for the fee is the amount of time and effort incurred by the doctor in delivering care to the patient," added the spokesman.
According to the clinic's records as well as both the doctor's and patient's account of the consultation, the visit appeared to have been a long consult rather than a short one, said MOH.
Thus, the consultation fee of $80 "fell within the range of charges displayed at the clinic, which stated that a long consult could cost from $50".
The MOH also asked the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) - which regulates doctors - and the College of Family Physicians Singapore (CFPS) for their views. Both bodies felt that doctors can charge consultation fees based on how much professional work is involved, and the number of unrelated diagnoses is one possible proxy for assessing this.
The CFPS added that it would be too simplistic to determine charges based solely on the number of conditions, and consultation fees should also be based on the complexity of the task.
The MOH said it has advised the clinic to review how it communicates its charging practice to patients.
"We have also explained our findings and actions to the patient," added the spokesman.