Doctors are charging patients arbitrarily, watchdog says
By Iole Damaskinos

Complaints are on the rise from state healthcare (Gesy) patients about specialists and personal doctors charging increased fees.

According to the complaints, patients are being told by physicians that Gesy has increased certain co-payments.

Patient watchdog organisation, Osak, reported that one patient had contacted a dermatologist to make an appointment and was told by the doctor’s secretary that the doctor was fully booked, however, if he wanted, he could pay €25 out of pocket to be seen, according to Philenews.

Another patient reportedly contacted a urologist asking for an appointment and was informed that if he wanted to see the doctor sooner, he should “visit privately”, that is, pay out of pocket.

A third complaint involved a patient requesting an appointment with an ophthalmologist on referral from his personal doctor, who was asked to pay a €25 co-payment instead of €6, because the health insurance organisation (HIO) had purportedly increased the amount. The patient was told that the doctor had “received an email from Gesy” on the matter.

In recent weeks, Osak also reported complaints from patients of personal doctors charging telephone conversations as visits because the patient had “reached the visit limit” prescribed by Gesy.

A woman complained to the patient observatory that her personal doctor had charged for two visits in one day after she contacted her doctor’s secretary to correct a wrong referral.

The issuance of the initial referral was counted as a visit, however, it was incorrect, so the woman contacted the doctor’s office again. When the corrected referral was issued, the woman received an email that the doctor had charged this as a visit as well.

Yet another patient complained of their personal doctor counting as a visit phone calls to renew a repeat prescription.

“It is necessary without further delay, to properly inform the public and strictly monitor health service providers,” president of Osak, Charalambos Papadopoulos, told Phile.

Papadopoulos added that the practice of counting phone calls as visits appeared to have become commonplace.

The Osak representative said the organisation had repeatedly advocated for limiting long phone calls to doctors and making an in-person appointment instead.

True phone consultations are rightfully counted as visits, but this is not what these complaints are about, Papadopoulos said.

The phenomenon of specialist doctors seemingly deciding on their own that the co-payment should be €25 rather than €6 is even more serious, the Osak rep said.

“Unfortunately, we also have doctors telling patients that they can bring forward their appointment if they pay €25 out of pocket, even when they have a referral,” Papadopoulos, said, noting that most patients in such cases are reluctant to proceed with an official complaint.

Currently, specialist doctors are officially permitted to charge €25 if the appointment takes place after 8pm or on a weekend or holiday. In no other case can the doctor ask for more than the €6 co-payment.

The HIO has not raised the co-payment from €6 to €25 and co-payment is fixed at €25 when the patient does not have a referral from a personal doctor.

As far as personal doctors are concerned, they are entitled to charge €15 once the patient has reached the number of visits to which they are entitled yearly, and which is set by Gesy according to the patient’s age. The fee is not mandatory and is at the doctor’s discretion.