'Comparing apples and oranges': Specialists poke holes in GP's fee-disclosure site

A leading surgeon has slammed a GP-led website listing specialist fees as a “divisive lone wolf approach” that misleads patients.

A leading surgeon has slammed a GP-led website listing specialist fees as a “divisive lone wolf approach” that misleads patients.

SeekMedi.com, which lists initial consultation fees for thousands of specialists, was set up by Sydney GP Dr Richard Zhu, who has been ringing around 30 specialist clinics a day to obtain the information from secretaries or receptionists.

But Dr Henry Woo, director of a uro-oncology and professor of robotic cancer surgery at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Sydney, has criticised the initiative.

In a blog post, he says the website doesn’t take into account “discretionary fee discounting”, where specialists reduce fees based on a patient’s genuine financial hardship. 

The fees listed on the site also fail to factor in the time allocated to the patient, he says.

“Some specialists [frequently] book patients in ... as five-minute time slots and are able to achieve this through the use of medical and non-medical assistants.

“Other specialists may spend as long as an hour with their patients on an initial consultation.”

He added: “I am not against transparency in specialist fees, but if we are to embark upon this path, it needs to be done in a professional, collaborative and transparent approach.

“A divisive lone wolf approach will never achieve acceptance.”

Last week, the Consumers Health Forum called the website a “breakthrough” in the drive for greater transparency over specialists fees.

“When we consider all that surgeons and other specialists achieve these days, their failure to provide a simple platform for consumers to view and compare fees – particularly at a time of often very high costs – does them no credit," said CEO Leanne Wells. 

Dr Woo, who is listed on the website as charging $280 for an initial consultation with a $72 Medicare rebate, told Australian Doctor the fee listed was correct.

But he said comparing specialist fees was like "comparing apples and oranges — that's not helpful to the GP or consumer". 

He said he was more than happy for his fees to be publicly listed, but only if there were appropriate disclosures and explanatory notes.

“[Currently the fees listed] do not reflect discounting that occurs for those in genuine financial need. I actually bulk-bill quote a number of patients on a case by case basis.”

AMA NSW councillor Dr Peter Aquilina, who appears on SeekMedi as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, said his quoted fees were “woefully inaccurate”.

The website says Dr Aquilina does not bulk-bill and charges $200 for an initial consultation with a $72 Medicare rebate.  

“My consult fees are way lower than he quotes and I also bulk-bill pension card holders,” he wrote on Twitter.

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