Ouch, that’s expensive! The lowdown on the high cost of surgical specialists

Dan Harrison

Are surgeons fees a reasonable reflection of skills and professionalism or are they extortionate and unethical? Dan Harrison takes a patient look at operational matters.

I think my plumber is pretty expensive too – don’t market mechanisms establish prices and competition protect consumers from price gouging?

The market for surgery doesn’t work so well, because we tend not to shop around for an operation in the same way we might for other goods and services. Typically, our GP will refer us to a specialist, who will provide an indication of the likely cost of the procedure. But with no point of comparison, it’s hard for us to tell whether the surgeon’s fees are reasonable. Surgeons who compare notes with their colleagues on their fees risk falling foul of competition rules.

Surgeons might be expensive – but I get what I’m paying for, right?

Not according to College of Surgeons president Michael Grigg. He says in medicine, often the reverse is true. Some ethical, well-trained surgeons charge modest fees and are kept busy with referrals from colleagues who know they do good work, while other surgeons with less work charge higher fees in the hope of fooling patients into thinking they deliver a higher quality of service.

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