Commercialism in medicine
By Larry Chan
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The medical profession does not allow commercial promotion. Nevertheless, there is commercialism in the profession.
A commercial organization launched a campaign listing out the consultation and medicine fees of a certain group of doctors inside their clinics and in some public areas such as restaurants.
This campaign was controversial, as the group of private doctors joining the campaign was criticized for violating the Professional Code and Conduct.
This is unfair to other doctors who have not joined the campaign, said Dr. Lo Wing Lok, vice-president of the Hong Kong Medical Association.
According to the Professional Code and Conduct, a doctor shall not engage in practice promotion or permit others to do so on his behalf or for his benefit.
Practice promotion includes the provision of information, advertising, and canvassing in relation to both the public and patients.
Dr. Lo said, Doctors are strictly restricted in spreading information to the public under the professional codes.
Concerning the promotional activities of listing all the fees charged by some doctors, they may bring misconceptions to people.
People may think that only those doctors who are in the list charge a lower price.
But the most important thing is that the information provided to patients in this way is not comprehensive and reliable, added he.
The Hong Kong Medical Association emphasized that if a small group of doctors can list out their fees, other doctors should follow for the sake of fairness.
The Association complained to the Medical Council of Hong Kong about some private doctors being suspected of violating the Professional Code and Conduct.
Actually, the Medical Council of Hong Kong is discussing how to provide more information on fees charged by private doctors before patients receive consultation.
The Association plans to set up a database for patients to access the information on demand.
Said Dr. Lo: The database will contain information such as the location of the clinic, the speciality of the doctor and the charge.
This will be much more standardized as the information of all our members is provided.
All members of the Association are registered doctors and over 70 percent of Hong Kongs registered doctors are members.
According to Dr. Lo, some doctors suggested giving them more freedom in promotion. However, this would lead to many issues for settlement.
For instance, if advertising signboards can be illuminated, can they flash? said Dr. Lo.
Dr. Cho Kwai Chee of Town Health Integrated Medical Centre agreed that fees charged by doctors should be open to the public as this encouraged patients to make their own choice.
Said Ms Lau Sau Han of the Society for Community Organization: Patients now demand more information.
Ms Lau strongly suggested that doctors could promote themselves by advertising provided that the information on the advertisements was true and accurate.
Nevertheless, Dr. Cho said that distributing handbills in public places was not appropriate and was prohibited by the Professional Code and Conduct.
The list of fees charged by doctors should be posted inside the clinic, but not in a window display, said Dr. Cho.
Some people may worry that patients choose doctors merely because of the lower fees charged.
Ms Lau, however, believed that patients are sensible. Most patients know that quality of medical service is crucial, said Ms Lau.
Besides listing the fees charged, clinics operated by commercial organizations is another illustration of commercialism.
This new operation of business has certain advantages and disadvantages when compared to the clinics owned by sole proprietors.
Said Dr. Lo: Doctors of different specialities can be centralized.
Moreover, the commercial organization can set up branch clinics in different districts.
There are more doctors and they can work in shifts.
Therefore, the consultation hours can be extended even to 24 hours.
This is convenient to the patients, said Dr. Lo.
However, according to him, profits made in the running of the clinic are partly distributed to the shareholders of the clinic.
Also, as the number of staff increases, current expenses and administrative costs will also increase.
If money can be saved and used on improving the facilities of the clinic, patients can benefit more.
Nevertheless, Dr. Lo feared that the commercial organizations would monopolize the medical service provided.
If private clinics become extinct, the commercial organizations can raise the fees unreasonably, said Dr. Lo.
(Wong Sze Man)