Free-market system not licence for docs to overcharge

I read Thursday's letters on doctors' charges with great interest.

As Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan ("Revisit need for fee guideline") correctly pointed out, there is a split in the medical fraternity between the "free market proponents", who regard doctors as service providers, and the "traditionalists", who see medicine as a vocation.

There are many doctors who are trying to find a satisfactory and realistic balance between these two extremes that will best serve the community as well as our profession.

Dr Wong Wee Nam ("Shouldn't top doctors charge top dollar?") asked: "Supposing the doctor... dedicates his services solely to the patient, is he not entitled to an extraordinary fee?"

The obvious rejoinder to that is: What if a patient is unable (as most are) to pay an extraordinary fee?

Do we really want a system where money, and not necessity, is the key criterion for the services of skilled professionals?

The benefit of a free-market system is that it encourages a diversity of services and skills to cater for a variety of needs.

It is not a licence for unfettered charges that would not only polarise good medical care, but also limit the development of skills in less lucrative but equally critical areas of medicine.

I, like Dr Wong Kai Peng ("Timely reminder"), am reassured that "obligation and ethics have been ruled to be of paramount importance in the medical profession".

This is something that every medical student knows and is reminded of constantly.

It should be within the ability of the medical profession to come to some consensus on how this translates into ethical charges without detriment to either the patient or the standing of the profession.

But if we, as a profession, lose the unity, self-respect and moral compass to self-regulate, then we will, sadly, have to face more imposed guidelines and regulations.

I would be sorry to see this happen.

Geh Min (Dr)

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