Exorbitant hospital charges and what you can do

Under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Regulations 2006, patients have the right to receive information, on request, of the estimated charges for services to be provided and of other unanticipated charges for services that are routine or usual.

Consumers association of Penang (CAP) refers to the 2007 press report of former Health Minister Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek expressing serious concern over the exorbitant rates charged by private hospitals for consultancy and the unnecessary tests recommended. The Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Regulations 2006, which covers private hospitals, medical clinics, dental clinics and other private healthcare facilities, came into force last year. It is one tool that can be used for ensuring patients’ rights.

It may help the public to know that, based on these Regulations, patients have the right to receive information, on request, of the estimated charges for services to be provided and of other unanticipated charges for services that are routine or usual.

A patient also has the right to be informed of the private hospital’s billing procedures — prior to the initiation of a particular care or treatment. The patient can request for itemised billing for the whole course of the treatment without any additional charges being imposed.

The person in charge of a private hospital is required to take reasonable steps to ensure that patients are provided with information about the nature of their medical conditions and any proposed treatment, investigation or procedure and the likely costs of the treatment, investigation or procedure.

The Regulations also provide a Fee Schedule to determine the fees that can be charged by a general practitioner (GP) or a specialist doctor. This Fee Schedule also includes a comprehensive list of the charges that can be imposed for various medical procedures. The Ministry of Health can help in this area by insisting that the descriptions of medical procedures listed in patients’ bills closely match the description in the Fee Schedule. This will make it easier to compare descriptions in bills with the descriptions listed out in this Schedule.

The public should also be aware that persons in charge of private hospitals must establish a patient grievance mechanism plan which includes the appointment of a Patient Relations Officer to act as a liaison between a patient and a private hospital. Patients who have a grouse against a private hospital can submit their complaint orally or in writing directly to the Patient Relations Officer, or via a healthcare professional from that particular hospital.

The Patient Relations Officer is expected to document all complaints received and resolve the matter. In the event that the officer cannot resolve the complaint, the matter should be referred to the person in charge of the hospital immediately or not later than 3 working days.

The person in charge would then be expected to initiate an investigation and provide a reply, which includes the result of the investigation, to the complainant within 10 working days after the complaint was received by the person in charge.

This reply should inform the complainant that if he is still dissatisfied, he may refer the matter in writing to the Director-General (DG) of the Ministry of Health.

The DG is also presently heading the Malaysian Medical Council — one of the disciplinary arms of the Ministry of Health. The Health Minister has already indicated to the press that people have a right to complain to the Malaysian Medical Council about unethical practices of doctors.

The public must start to exercise their rights and voice their complaints through the avenues already available. They should then expect action to be taken — either by the private hospitals themselves, or else, the Ministry of Health — to properly address these complaints.

Also in Utusan Konsumer January-February 2008:

  • Make Registration of Clinical Trials Mandatory
  • Malaysian Medical Council Should be Revamped