High fees at private hospitals resented

DUBAI - The charging of huge fees for services by some private healthcare institutions has come in for sharp criticism from the public.

By Hani M. Bathish

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Published: Fri 14 Nov 2003, 11:51 AM

Last updated: Thu 20 Oct 2022, 3:44 PM

It is pointed out that the disparity in prices for medicines and fees for various services between different private healthcare establishments in Dubai and the Northern Emirates is in many cases unjustified, even as the UAE is a free market and private healthcare establishments are no exception.

A survey conducted by Khaleej Times of basic healthcare and services' charges at some of the major private hospitals and facilities in Dubai and Sharjah, following public criticism, showed a big difference, with the American Hospital coming top in the matter.

For instance, the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test at the American Hospital would cost Dh1,650 without contrast medium injection. With contrast medium injection, it would come to over Dh2,000, while consultation with a general practitioner at the hospital would cost between Dh200 and Dh300, and consultation with a consultant or specialist would come to between Dh300 and Dh400. By comparison, at the Zulekha Hospital in Sharjah, the MRI costs Dh900, while CT Scan costs Dh550 and X-rays cost Dh50. A private patient room rent would cost between Dh250 to Dh300, while consultation fees with a general practitioner costs Dh50, and consultation with a specialist Dh100. At the American Hospital, room rents are put at Dh800 for standard single room, Dh1,500 for double room and Dh2,500 for three rooms residential suite a day.

Dr Kishan Pakkal, Marketing Manager at Zulekha Hospital, said that for the past 40 years Dr Zulekha's philosophy has been to keep prices for medical treatment within reach of the common man, offering value for money medical care.

"The only cost a common man finds difficult to bear is cost of surgery, since the quality of the disposable equipment used in the surgery and the high degree of sanitary conditions, make surgery expensive. Usually we can compromise a little on the price because we do not want a patient who cannot afford treatment to be turned away," Dr Pakkal said.

At Welcare Hospital in Dubai, consultation with specialists costs Dh300, while MRI test without contrast medium injection costs Dh1,350 and MRI with contrast medium injection is Dh1,850.

The New Medical Centre Hospital in Dubai charges Dh60 for consultation with GPs, Dh100 for consultation with a specialists and Dh150 for consultation with a super specialists, while for MRI tests its Dh1,300 without contrast medium and Dh1,800 with contrast medium.

The UAE Ministry of Health has a regulatory body, the Department of Private Medical Practice, whose job it is to check on private medical establishments to make sure they meet standards and their facilities meet stringent MoH hygiene regulations before they are licensed to practice.

The Director of the DPMP, Dr Ibrahim Al Qadi, responded to questions put forward by Khaleej Times regarding over-priced medical services offered by some private hospitals and whether his department tries to control prices at private health care establishments.

"We had earlier thought of setting a ceiling for private hospital fees but later found this to be impractical. We found that the solution is not to set a limit on health care service prices, but to force all medical establishments to advertise their fee structure openly.

"In this regard the Minister of Health has issued a ministerial order which obliges hospitals and clinics to inform patients of fees up front, and before they commit to surgery both patient and surgeon must agree to the cost of the operation," Dr Al Qadi said.

He said that allowing hospitals and clinics in the private sector to set their own prices based on their costs, overheads and profit margins is far better. As a result two doctors with the same training and specialisation can demand different fees for consultation.

He said that many patients feel psychologically more comfortable going to a more expensive doctor or hospital because they are treated in a way that sets their minds at ease and they do not mind the extra expense.

"There are three main reasons why some health care establishments are more expensive than others. First, rent is a big factor, some clinics in Sharjah pay Dh20,000 in rent while others in Dubai pay Dh120,000 for similar facilities. Second, some clinics have basic fittings and furnishings which cost only Dh50,000, other clinics spend Dh500,000 on fittings and furnishings, adding an element of luxury.

"Third, doctors with similar qualifications also differ in the number of years of experience they have, it is not fair for a doctor with 20 years of experience to charge the same consultation fee as a doctor with three years experience, for example. This way a patient has the freedom to choose," Dr Al Qadi said.

In an earlier report, Dr Amin Al Amiri, Director of the Blood Transfusion Services Department at the MoH, said that private hospitals misuse the facility extended to them by the blood transfusion services, which provides units of whole blood to these commercial establishments at the low price of Dh400 with no strings attached, while the majority of these hospitals sell it back to patients for between Dh750 and Dh1,000.

Talal S., an obese private sector employee, approached one of these hospitals for a gastric banding operation. He was shocked to know that the procedure costs Dh35,000. "I was very surprised and disappointed. This operation would have changed my life as I really have to loose weight for my health, but I have not been able to do this procedure so far. I pity those who need an urgent operation and do not have the financial means, what do they do?"

Layla B., a housewife and mother of two, broke and dislocated her wrist and she needed an operation to reset it. When she approached a private hospital in Dubai, she was shocked to learn that the procedure would cost her Dh4,000. "It was just a broken wrist, I though all it needed was to be put in a cast, I was surprised to know that I needed general anaesthesia and an operation. They could have just snapped the bones into place but the hospital told me it would be too painful and that I needed the operation."

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