Sunday May 29, 2011
Many complain of having to pay for unnecessary tests
By LIM AI LEE and AUDREY EDWARDS
PETALING JAYA: A retiree seeking treatment at a private hospital was asked to undergo a blood test, X-ray and an ultrasound therapy. He was referred to three specialists an orthopaedic surgeon, a physician and a nephrologist and was admitted for three days. He had gone to the doctor for his gout.
The retiree, who has no medical insurance, claimed he was eventually discharged with some painkillers and slapped with a RM2,700 bill.
In another case, a patient with a urinary problem was asked to undergo Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Her total hospital charges amounted to RM2,000.
In the last two years, the National Consumer Complaints Centre (NCCC) has received 193 complaints from patients who claimed they were asked to undergo various tests even for simple ailments. The cases were among 943 complaints received against private healthcare services in the country.
NCCC senior manager Matheevani Marathandan, who called on private hospitals to be more socially responsible, said some tests like MRI and CT scans might not be necessary for minor ailments.
MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Michael Chong noted that medical practitioners tended to “play safe” when asking their patients to undergo tests or procedures.
Citing his own case as an example, he said he had sought treatment for gastritis but ended up having tests carried out on his colon, stomach and liver.
Insurance companies, too, are unhappy over escalating private medical and healthcare costs that are outpacing the general inflation rate.
They have warned that the escalating costs would lead to higher medical and healthcare premiums.
General Insurance Association of Malaysia (PIAM) executive director C.F. Lim said medical and health insurance policy holders and their insurers must not be expected to continue to fund unreasonable and unnecessary medical costs.
Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia president Datuk Dr Jacob Thomas acknowledged that more tests were being conducted now compared to a decade ago.
“With advanced medical technology, doctors have the luxury of sophisticated tests and tools to help them make an accurate and quick diagnosis,” he said.
Another reason was the threat of litigation, which is on the increase. This had pushed doctors to “not hold back” on any available test to aid them in arriving at the correct diagnosis.
Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr David Quek said it was difficult for a doctor to use his clinical acumen and categorically say that a patient has or does not have an illness based on “simple history taking” and physical examination.
More tests, he added, needed to be carried out if symptoms or complaints from a patient suggested the possibility of serious illness.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said patients had a right to ask for full information and clarification from the doctor prior to undergoing any investigation, treatment or procedure or to seek a second opinion.
Liow said the patient could write to the ministry's medical practice division if they were unhappy with the treatment referred.