“Doc, humihingi po ng discount yung pasyente,” my secretary said.
“Sige, bigyan mo na lang,” I replied.
I know most of us complain about how high the cost of living has become nowadays. With the unrelenting march of inflation, it is inevitable that we have to pay for everything much higher, sooner or later. As a result, doctors' consultation and professional fees have also become higher.
I know of some patients who complain, “This doctor charges high. Why can’t he lower down his fees?”
Consultation fees (CF) of doctors in Metro Manila probably varies from P300 - P1,000, depending on his/her specialization. Some people will spend for cell phone load, a new shirt, even a meal at P300 easily. But they can’t spend for their health.
Some patients may complain to themselves, “Why do we need to pay P500 for this doctor’s CF when we can get it cheaper from other doctors?”
Here’s how I’d like to answer that: “When I was an intern at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), I treated every patient for free. Every so often, I did 24- to 48-hour straight hospital duty, and did that for free. When I did my residency training at the Philippine Orthopedic Center, we were paid a measly government salary, just enough for a frugal bachelor. When I did my subspecialty training abroad, I had to pay for my airfare, visa fees, insurance and lodging. When I started private practice, I had to borrow money from my parents to buy hospital stocks, privilege to practice or joining fee. Now, I pay rent for clinic use, secretary's salary and utilities.
So please bear with us that we have to charge P500 for consultation fees.
Some people may think, “But Doc, don’t you have rich patients who can pay you in full?”
Of course there are. But the mentality that “I want it free" or "Doctors charge too high!” is the attitude that will keep you poor in health.
Get rid of it. Earn money, allocate a budget for healthcare, and pay your way to good health.
All right, I am biased. I’ll admit it. I’m a doctor. It’s just that I think doctors, especially surgeons, should be well-compensated. Now that I have that disclosure, I’d like to explore four reasons why we, as a society, shouldn’t want physicians' pay to go lower.
1) A Valuable Service
What doctors do is valuable. Inspite of all the whining about the high cost of health care, few people would argue that our job of saving lives, extinguishing worries, relieving pain or improving quality of life is beyond measure.
Are there mediocre doctors? Sure. Are there bad doctors out there? Of course. But overall, physician services are extremely important. Those who provide quality healthcare deserve appropriate compensation and gratitude for the service provided. You don’t think twice about plunking down P30,000 for an iPhone, but balk at P500 to get a specialist’s opinion on treating a serious condition? Where are our priorities?
2) The “Lost” Life
The 20s and early 30s are the prime of life. That's the age people typically enjoy good health and are often free from family responsibilities. But for doctors, this was the age we did basic medical and specialty training, and when we came out of this, it’s as though we lost contact from the world for more than a decade. How long is medical training to be a specialist? 12-15 years.
“Never again," is the unanimous phrase we utter when we reminisce about our medical internship days. We’ve lost friends, missed family reunions, and even suffered through the loss of important romantic relationships. (Most of us, however, found our life partners during our medical training years, because we are the ones who understand each other’s schedule and hardships.)
3) A Difficult Job
When I was growing up, I thought that you had to be paid well to do a difficult job. If a job required hard work, long hours, odd hours, or a great deal of stress, it should pay more. That’s what my parents told me. So I entered medicine-- long hours, constant stress of misdiagnosing or not treating someone properly, bureaucratic hassle imposed by government or insurance-- and you’ve got a hard job that deserves to be paid well.
If a businessman makes a mistake, he can just try to recoup his financial loss with better management. If a teacher makes a mistake, he can tell his or her class the next day about the correction. If doctors make a mistake, life is at stake. No room to mess around.
Don’t get me wrong, I know everyone’s job is difficult. And if you can’t stand the risk, get out. But what field or career does constant liability or the probability of being sued hang over one’s head? If there is no financial compensation for this, then intelligent people would not want to go into medicine.
4) An Expensive Course
Just ask any parent who has or had a child in medical school. With 12-15 years of training, parents often end up supporting their doctor-children even after they have married and have children themselves. Some parents even get buried in debt just to send their children to medical school.
Take Home Message
I apologize for the whining tone of this post, but I just want to reply to patients who keep accusing us of charging high fees.
If our society demotes doctors from their status as well-paid professionals, our society is going to get what it deserve. We’ll regret the day we decided that quality health care wasn’t worth paying for.
I love being a doctor. Medicine is one of the noblest, if not the noblest of all professions. The opportunity to heal and care for humanity was bestowed upon our profession. But being a doctor is a difficult job that requires leadership, intelligence, compassion, decision-making skills, continuous education (disease, treatment, and technology change almost every year!), decades of dedication, stress, and lastly, expenses.
These, I think, are the reasons why your doctor charges you with “high” fees.
What do you think?