I have received several e-mail about Dr Susan Lim, the surgeon who overcharged her patient.
is extremely disheartening to learn about Susan Lim's greed.
Unfortunately it does not appear to be confined to her alone. Many
Singapore doctors feel that it is justifiable to charge their patients
$450,000 per day. I am disappointed with them. Let me explain why.
are several aspects to consider when approaching the question of
medical charges in a free economy. On the one hand, some might regard
medicine as a business, and therefore it can charge whatever the market
example, Apple manufactures their iPods in China at a fraction of the
cost of what they are selling for. The same with many branded goods.
Business people are proud that they can make a profit of several hundred
can medicine be considered a business? The answer is rather complex. If
you do not buy an iPod or a pair of branded shoes, it does not matter.
They are not absolute essentials. However, clinical medicine might be
dealing with critical matters, such as life and death issues. Doctors
have an obligation to attend to patients who seek their help. Therefore,
medical charges should not be beyond the reach of all patients, both
rich and poor.
might argue that if a rich billionaire can afford to pay more, why not
charge more? The doctor may even be regarded as a Robin Hood, "robbing"
the rich, and giving (hopefully) to the poor. However, there is a
problem with this outlook, as illustrated by the Susan Lim case.
salaries have evolved from hundreds of years of history. It is a social
contract between society and the individual. In a democratic capitalist
society, wages depend on many factors, including the scarcity of that
particular worker's skills, and how much revenue that person is
generating. Top bankers, businessmen, entertainers, sportsmen, lawyers,
earn multi-million dollars. The public have accepted this. There is one
proviso. When bankers were paid millions of dollars in bonuses at a time
when their bank lost billions of dollars, there was a public outcry.
there are several professions that the public treats differently. These
include service occupations and charities. Doctors, nurses, teachers,
civil servants, social workers, are among the occupations that are
expected to be selfless, self-sacrificial, altruistic. Because of this,
they are bestowed special trust and respect. People opting for these
professions are expected to be honest, to have absolute integrity, and
not to exploit their position in society.
is a sense of fairness at play here. Society supports these professions
and wants to show its appreciation. Hence the earnings of these
professions are adequate, perhaps even a little above average, but
certainly not excessive. In a free market, doctors may charge slightly
above the mean for their services, but they are expected to exert
restraint and fairplay.
trust and respect is betrayed when a doctor overcharges. In the case of
Susan Lim, the public is outraged by her excessive greed.
takes a lifetime to build up one's reputation, but it takes only a
fraction of that time to lose one's reputation. Unfortunately, the loss
of respect is not confined to just the one doctor. The entire medical
profession becomes tainted.
The Singapore Medical Council must take action that would restore the public's faith in the profession.
27 Feb 2011