Skip to content

Private docs remain popular despite rising fees

Higher fees and lower reimbursements do not seem to have lowered Finns' desire to visit private doctors. According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), last year just under one third of Finns did so – most frequently to private gynaecologists, paediatricians and ophthalmologists.

Image: Toni Pitkänen / Yle

Costs of private doctors’ services have risen much faster than inflation, the newspaper Savon Sanomat reports on Tuesday. However reimbursements by the Social Insurance Institution (Kela) have not risen at the same pace. For instance prices at paediatric receptions rose by more than 23 percent within five years. Nearly one in three Finns visits a private doctor at least once a year.

Whereas general inflation was around nine percent in the years 2010-15, some doctors’ fees rose by three times that much during the same period.

The biggest spike, 28 percent, was in psychiatrists’ fees. Other significant price rises were in visits to paediatricians (23.5 percent) as well as to gynaecologists and general practitioners (both 22 percent).

The percentage of private doctors fees' reimbursed by Kela has lagged far behind the rise in costs. In the 1990s, Kela still paid 40 percent of patients' costs for visiting private doctors, whereas by 2012 reimbursements only amounted to 22 percent of costs.

International investors take their cut

Ulla Tuominen, a researcher in health economics at Kela, says that the rise in costs is partly due to a lack of competition in doctors’ services in Finland.

Timo Keistinen, a ministerial counsellor at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, says the increases are linked to improvements in services. Meanwhile, large international companies also have more expenses than the older type of small independent doctors’ offices. Money goes for expensive office space in prime locations, as well as to investors. Finland's biggest for-profit healthcare providers, Attendo and Terveystalo, are primarily Swedish-owned.

Number of visits holds steady

Higher fees and lower reimbursements do not seem to have lowered Finns' desire to visit private doctors. According to the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), last year just under one third of Finns did so – most frequently to private gynaecologists, paediatricians and ophthalmologists. Fees for consulting private doctors tend to be lower in areas where public sector healthcare works better, it concludes.