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PostPosted: Wed Jun 30, 2010 4:48 am 
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Joined: Sat Nov 04, 2006 10:18 pm
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Location: Australia
DOCTORS have begun charging patients a fee of up to $50 for being just 10 minutes late for appointments.
June 30, 2010

Consumer groups are accusing the profession of a double standard, given that doctors often keep patients kicking their heels in surgery waiting rooms.

But general practitioners say the fees are necessary to ensure practices run efficiently.

In Melbourne, the Collins St Medical Centre imposes a $20 charge on patients who are 10 minutes late for a standard 15-minute consultation; for longer consultations, the late fee is $40.

At nearby Collins Place Medical Centre, patients more than 20 minutes late for a 15-minute consultation can incur a $35 penalty and lose the appointment.

Another medical centre in the central business district charges patients a $50 late fee.

Psychologists at Radius Clinic in Essendon also enforce a $50 fee on tardy patients.

Leona Edwards, practice manager at the Collins Place Medical Centre, stood by the penalties.

"If the patient doesn't come, two things happen," she said.

"One is, the practice doesn't get paid for the time that's been allocated. Another thing is that unless there's some sort of consequence for the patient, that can become a routine thing.

"It can deny other patients an appointment time."

Brad Schmitt, of consumer group Choice, said there was a double standard at work.

"If patients are charged a late fee, do they get a discount if their GP is running late?" he said.

"If patients just accept a late fee as part of the cost of seeing a GP, then there is no incentive to turn up on time, and this will just exacerbate the problem," Mr Schmitt said.

Carol Bennett, executive director at the Consumers' Health Forum of Australia, said it was now not uncommon for GPs to charge late fees.

"It's a bit of a concern when doctors often run late themselves and consumers have to bear the cost of that - whether it's lost time at work, lost time with their family, or the inconvenience of sitting in the doctor's surgery with other people with flu-like symptoms that are contagious," she said.

"For consumers, it's unreasonable to apply a late fee if it's not a two-way street."

Dr Steve Hambleton, vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said he would never charge patients a late fee at his practice, as doctors themselves often ran behind schedule.

"Most of my patients this morning had to wait past their appointment time," he said.

"I always say to my patients, if you're late, this GP won't be complaining."

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