Hospitals charging for 'free' services

Hospitals charging for 'free' services

Patients have been complaining of being charged for treatment of emergencies at private hospitals. Doctors say they're just 'complaints', not emergencies. (File photo)
Patients have been complaining of being charged for treatment of emergencies at private hospitals. Doctors say they're just 'complaints', not emergencies. (File photo)

The new chief of the National Institute of Emergency Medicine (NIEM) has pledged to look into complaints that some private hospitals are charging for emergency care services which are supposed to be provided free.

Atchariya Phaengma held a briefing Thursday on the institute's policy direction after assuming the post of NIEM director-general.

He said while a policy is now in place for both state and private hospitals not to charge patients in the first 72 hours of admittance under the free emergency care scheme, many patients under the scheme complained they were still charged by some private hospitals.

Dr Atchariya said the problem may have arisen from the fact patients and hospital staff have a different interpretation of the term "emergency".

For example, some patients suffered from severe stomach aches and thought this was an emergency case and sought free emergency care at private hospitals.

But when doctors decided it was not an emergency and charged for the services, the patients then filed complaints, Dr Atchariya said.

He said the NIEM will find ways to make sure definitions of technical terms in this case are clear to both doctors and patients.

He also said the Public Health Ministry is drawing up a ministerial regulation to solve this problem and the regulation is expected to be announced next month.

Dr Atchariya also said the NIEM will ask local administrative organisations nationwide to set up emergency call centres to respond to emergency cases.

Currently, there are only 80 emergency call centres across the country.

Dr Atchariya said there were about 12 million emergency patients last year.

Of them, about 4 million were critically ill patients and the number is expected to increase.

Between 2013-2015, about 1.3 million patients had access to emergency medical care while only 400,000 critically ill patients did, Dr Atchariya said.

He stressed the need to improve and expand emergency care services to reach a wider public.

In March last year, the Emergency Medical Committee agreed to waive expenses for patients needing certain types of insurance-covered emergency care during their first 72 hours in hospital.

Emergency patients suffering from 25 ailments are entitled to free treatment during their first three days in hospital before being transferred to other hospitals stipulated in the state's three key health insurance plans.

The insurance plans are those which provide medical benefits for government officials, the Social Security Office scheme, and the Universal Healthcare Coverage scheme.

Delegates at the meeting held before Dr Atchariya's briefing also agreed emergency patients must suffer from 25 emergency conditions to qualify.

They include many typical conditions such as diabetes, allergies, pregnancy, paediatrics, cardiac arrest, convulsions, aches and pains, difficulty breathing, chronic paralysis, accidental drug overdose, neurotic disorders, and assault.

Injuries sustained from traffic accidents, animal attacks, fire, and chemical burns are also on the list of those which qualify for free medical care.

Emergency patients can be delivered to the nearest hospital, regardless of their healthcare scheme.

This would provide enough time for patients to recover and be transferred to hospitals where they are registered.

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