Acclaimed brain surgeon Charlie Teo has defended his prices, after a colleague criticised the “disturbing” number of online fundraising campaigns set up to access his life-saving expertise.
Henry Woo, a Professor of Surgery at the University of Sydney, this week questioned the ethics of the crowdfunding efforts, some of which have raised $120,000.
In a series of Twitter posts, Professor Woo said it was “really disturbing” there were more than 100 campaigns listed on crowdfunding site GoFundMe that mention Professor Teo and seek donations for his services.
“Something is seriously wrong if a terminally ill girl with a brain tumour has to raise $120,000 to have surgery Dr Charlie Teo has offered to do for $60,000-$80,000,” he said in one tweet.
“If it was valid surgery, it [sic] could/should be performed in the public system under Medicare.”
Patients outside NSW can only access Professor Teo’s surgery through the private health system, where they pay a premium.
People desperate to access his expertise have made online pleas in a bid to cover their costs.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) have both subsequently questioned the use of crowdfunding websites like GoFundMe to access Dr Teo’s cancer surgery.
Professor Teo, one of the nation’s most recognisable medical names, told the ABC Professor Woo had raised an “important issue”.
Something is seriously wrong if a terminally ill girl with a brain tumour has to raise $120K to have surgery Dr Charlie Teo has offered to do for $60-80K.
If it was valid surgery, it could/should be performed in the public system under Medicare #auspol https://t.co/8s7L5mcuAZ
— Henry Woo (@DrHWoo) May 24, 2019
But he defended the prices, saying it was symptomatic of Australia’s two health systems.
“The difference between public and private [and the] cost of medicine needs to be discussed,” Professor Teo said.
“But what you have to remember is that of that $120,000 [charged for surgery] most people think it all goes to me, and that’s not the case at all.
“$80,000 goes to a private hospital, and of the $40,000 that remains, that is shared among the surgical assistant, the anaesthetist, the radiologist, radiographer, the intensivist and the list goes on and on and on.
“For example, in the last bill of $120,000, I got $8000.
“It’s not even a significant amount to me.
“And remember the surgeries differ wildly in complexity and the time taken. Some are an hour and a half and some are 16 hours.”
Dr Teo said, for example, a patient who lived outside NSW and wanted to access his surgery would not be covered under the public system.
He said it was the private health system “that’s excessive” in its cost structure.
On a search on GoFundMe for “Charlie Teo” there are 113 campaigns listed, that mention him as the surgeon for which donations are sought to pay for his services.
I find this really disturbing. pic.twitter.com/j4ZQRNHXvQ
— Henry Woo (@DrHWoo) May 24, 2019
Dr John Quinn, the RACS executive director of surgical affairs, said patients should not have to fundraise for treatment.
“The college of surgeons is not in favour of patients funding treatments by GoFundMe or other means like re-mortgaging their homes and accessing funds from their superannuation,” he said.
“If urgent treatment is required, all of these treatments are available in a public hospital at no cost.
“If it’s urgent cancer treatment, it will be treated as an appropriate cost.”
Dr Chris Moy, the chair of the AMA’s ethics committee, said his organisation was “totally against” cost barriers that may prevent patients receiving treatment.
GoFundMe’s Australian director Nicola Britton said medical expenses accounted for one third of the website’s campaigns.
“Some health problems are unforeseen and sudden tragedies,” she said.
“Every situation is different but the need to cover unexpected costs is there – which is why people turn to GoFundMe.”