League table of specialist fees causes uproar


By Tessa Hoffman

14 Sep 2017

The doctor behind a website which lists the consultation fees of thousands of specialists says he did not set out to name and shame anyone.

Sydney GP Dr Richard Zhu has copped flak over his website, seekmedi.com, which lists the fees charged by doctors across 40 specialties and sub-specialties in three states, including details on bulk billing or pensioner discounts.

Dr Zhu said he self-funded the site because wanted to help GPs and consumers be better informed about out-of-pocket costs, in the interests of transparency and public interest.

He told the limbic he gathered the data by phoning practice receptionists and did not disclose he would publish the information online.

The site has been panned by some specialists who are unhappy about the way the information was obtained and who claim the information is inaccurate.

Urological surgeon Dr Henry Woo argues the site is misleading because it fails to factor in discretionary fee discounting and only includes a proportion of all Australian specialists.

The site should also disclose funding, date-stamp the data and explain how it is collected, Dr Woo wrote in his blog Surgical Opinion.

Several practice managers, who would not agree to be named, told the limbic fee information was inaccurate and they would not have provided it had they known it was to be published.

But Dr Zhu maintained that he needed to use this method to achieve his aim.

“The main purpose is to make the fees transparent. I inquire as a GP on behalf of a patient who’s going to use a website so I’m not being deceptive at all.”

“All I can tell is 99% of data is up to date, but specialists can change their fees. I am talking to medical secretaries…there might be a few cases where there are errors.”

“I didn’t create it to name and shame specialists. If I wanted to do that I’d cover the whole of Australia by now.”

“A lot of specialists got concerned I am trying to expose them. My intention is to make it easier for GPs to search for specialists with their fees listed there. I’m also giving the public freedom of choice.”

There has been positive feedback too, with 20 specialists asking to be listed.

AMA vice president Dr Tony Bartone said the AMA had a “cautious understanding about what the site would try to do”, but questioned its utility.

“Each GP would know the specialists in their area and have a fair idea of their interest and practice,” he said.

Cost is not the only factor to consider when referring and the AMA’s Code of Ethics also required members disclose fees to patients “so that should be happening anyway”.

Many specialists will discount patients based on individual circumstances, but don’t advertise the fact, he added.

“It’s really hard to give a broad-brush web-based approach to what is a customised procedure.”

Medicolegal expert Bill Madden, of Caroll and O’Dea Lawyers, said he was not aware of any law being breached by a third party publishing publishing doctors’ fees on what was effectively a consumer comparison site.

However, a doctor could theoretically launch a defamation claim if the fee listed was much higher than the true rate, claiming the GP behind the site was accusing them of overcharging.

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