Quality Healthcare in Singapore


March 9, 2016

How can we compete with Singapore and Bangkok in the provision of quality healthcare? I am pessimistic about our ability to match their medical and patient service quality. We spend loads on scarce tax ringgits on promoting medical tourism.Billions have been spent by the private sector to build modern hospitals and equip them with state of the art of facilities. Yet, we have found private healthcare wanting. Why? I will attribute this to the way we do things.It is our attitude and culture of mediocrity. We are brilliant at talking, but fall short on action.

I welcome your comments. Big talking Nazri Aziz, Minister of Tourism is also welcome to respond. His time and talent would be better used to deal with this issue than to defend our Prime Minister.–Din Merican

Quality Healthcare in Singapore

One of Farrer Park Hospital’s rooms. Photo: Farrer Park Hospital

The lobby reception at Mount Elizabeth Novena. Photo: Mount Elizabeth Novena

A concierge service, beautifully-plated meals, a personalised tablet with Wi-Fi access and ensuite bathroom complete with premium toiletries were some perks 47-year-old business owner Ms Wong Li Ping enjoyed during her five-night hospital “staycation” at Farrer Park Hospital (FPH) last December.

“The staff even went the extra mile to provide me with cranberry juice every day although it was not on the menu as a natural adjuvant to my therapy. I felt pampered, as if I was staying in a five-star hotel,” said Ms Wong, who was admitted for a renal condition that required intravenous treatment.

These five-star healthcare hospitality and frills are no longer reserved only for the uber-rich. Private hospitals that look and feel like upscale hotels are growing in numbers here, catering to a mix of local patients and medical tourists.

In 2012, Parkway Pantai Group launched Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital (MNH) comprising only single-bedded rooms. Each room comes with standard hotel-styled features such as floor-to-ceiling windows, marble bathrooms, mini bar, coffee machines and luxury linen. Also available upon request – at no additional charges – are limousine transfer services and complimentary massages for maternity patients.

Slated to officially open its doors this month, FPH is the newest private hospital in town. The 220-bedded facility is part of Singapore’s first fully integrated healthcare-hospitality complex which links the hospital to a five-star One Farrer Hotel and Spa, restaurants and educational facilities.

Besides its upscale offerings, arrangements can be made for relatives of patients to have direct access into the hospital’s deluxe suites from the hotel, a boon for international patients travelling with family members.

Higher Expectations and Overseas Rivals

Single rooms significantly reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections while the added privacy allow patients to recover in peaceful environment, said Mr Stephens Lo, Chief Executive Officer of MNH.

There are also higher patient expectations. “Even many of our hawker centres are now air-conditioned. What you would consider frills in the past is now the today’s norm,” said FPH’s spokesperson.

Recognising this, facilities providing maternity healthcare services have also jumped on the bandwagon, wooing patients with complimentary perks at no additional charges. Beyond clinical services, patients now look for value-added offerings, said Ms Mega Shuen, General Manager at Thomson Medical Centre.

For instance, TMC provides maternity patients with a complimentary massage service as well as post-discharge phone call services to ensure that mother and baby are coping well. Mothers who deliver there this year will also enjoy a specially commissioned luggage comprising a range of premium maternity and baby items.

Stiff overseas competition is also keeping the private healthcare sector here on their toes.

International patients form about 30 and 50 per cent of total patients seen at MNH and FPH respectively. MNH’s Mr Lo noted that regional competitors are catching up with Singapore on clinical competencies for standard medical procedures, often at a lower cost.

 

“In order to compete effectively, we have to move up the value chain, place greater focus on developing our capabilities, complex procedures and provide an overall superior patient experience through high service standards. At MNH, we seek to provide our patients with high quality of care at affordable prices,” he said. In 2013, MNH introduced Class A single rooms in 2013, priced at S$418, about 35 per cent less than rates for standard single rooms.

A 2015 BMI Research report has warned that Singapore will lose medical tourists as patients explore cheaper options to competing hubs in neighbouring cities. In 2013, medical expenditure generated from travellers was S$832 million, a decline of 25 per cent from 2012’s S$1.11 billion, according to figures from Singapore Tourism Board.

FPH’s spokesperson said significantly higher pricing premiums are “no longer sustainable for the private hospital sector given the changing economy and overseas competition”.

“Singapore continues to attract international patients who come to us for more complex medical procedures, such as heart surgery, due to our reputation for high quality of clinical care. Even so, we still hope to make high standard of care affordable for our target audience,” she added.

Competitively-Priced

A check revealed competitive inpatient room rates between some restructured and private hospitals here.

For private patients, a Class A single bedded room in National University Hospital’s (NUH) general ward is around S$527 a night, with deluxe rooms in the same ward at around S$762. For private patients, a Class A single bedded room in National University Hospital’s (NUH) general ward is around S$527 a night, with deluxe rooms in the same ward at around S$762.

A Class A1 single bedded room at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s (TTSH) acute ward starts from $420 a night, while a deluxe room at TTSH’s acute ward starts from S$550 a night, according to the hospitals’ websites.

MNH’s Class A room is priced from S$418 per night while its single signature room, which comes with personalised nursing service, starts from S$710 per night. FPH, which offers four-bedded, single bedded and deluxe suites, charges S$562 per night for a single-bedded suite.

But while rooms charges are competitively priced, they are not indicative of overall hospital bill size, which vary with different medical procedures and doctors’ fees. For instance, the estimated 90th percentile bill size for cataract day surgery for private patients is S$9,073 and S$8,867 at FPH and MNH respectively; at NUH and Singapore National Eye Centre, it is S$6,598 and S$5,464 respectively, according to figures by Ministry of Health.

According to Mr Lo, a private integrated shield plan with riders often allows patients to enjoy full coverage during their private hospital stay. Some prenatal insurance plans in the market also offer health and financial protection for expectant mothers and their babies, added Ms Shuen.

For 34-year-old interior designer Ray Chua Chia Howe, a private integrated shield plan with a rider took care of a S$5,600 hospital bill incurred during a serious bout of salmonella poisoning last year. His three-day MNH stay included procedures such as a CT scan done at the Accident and Emergency department, blood and stool tests and injections.

“I knew that my shield plan allows me to be treated at a private hospital and I appreciate the comfort in knowing I don’t have to wait as long, or risked having very limited room options at the restructured hospitals,” he said.

12 thoughts on “Quality Healthcare in Singapore

  1. People go to hospital to get medical treatment for what ails them. If they want luxury rooms and accommodations with all the trappings of opulence, take a vacation and stay at the 5 stars of 6 stars resorts.
    I’d rather be treated by skilled and experience clinicians, caring and professional nurses and care givers as opposed to getting my drinks of cranberry juice or gourmet plated meals. A hospital room must be practical, functional , clean and sterile, complete with the latest medical technological devices, ready for any emergency or procedures needed. Leave the mini bars, spa and sauna, jacuzzis for resorts.
    The doctors treating me should be well qualified and experienced. The nurses attending to the patients must also be qualified and have no objection to providing nursing services to members of the opposite sex or people of different religion. Hospital staff should be caring and trained to treat patients as human beings and not as a number especially in terminally ill patients or end of life patients.
    Somehow we have got our priorities wrong here. When we die we are all going to the same place, no fancy 5 star or 6 stars graves.
    ____________________
    Quality is not cheap.–Din Merican

  2. I WAS OFFICIALLY DISCHARGED TO ANOTHER DEPARTMENT, YESTERDAY!
    I was ill since 2012. Now this original group TAICHI myself to another group or department.
    Will I get better? Not likely, if I continue to listen to all these “CELUP” doctors. One say one thing, only to countered by another doctor “CELUP” from another (future) visit.

    Both private and government hospital in Malaysia are equally PATHETIC.
    The entire healthcare facility in Malaysia are already DOOMED!
    From the very TOP, all the way to the BOTTOM feeders!

    I was working overseas for most of my life. Seen many wonderful things, wonderful concept, wonderful and caring ministers plus government (officials) but NONE IN MALAYSIA!

    Every single country that I visit, I take time to “EXPLORE” their “EDUCATION” and “HEALTHCARE”. Malaysia are BOTH PATHETIC on both counts! Since I fell ill and was remitted back against my wishes, by my so called ‘blood family’. I had a HUGE culture shock in Malaysia! From transport to every single thing! The same thing remained the same before I left! Actually it was was WORSE, at present, compared to before I left!

    Malaysia’s healthcare, both private and public are DEAD!
    Beyond saving !
    Useless to even try!
    Just let it die a natural death, a dignified death, if you would call it that way…

  3. A Point To Ponder
    That is atypical put down of those who try to provide the best. Why one even said ironically that their health system is too clinical meaning too clean and that’s all. meaning it lacked the human touch. And went on to elaborate that they were too clinical for him. Yes, they are clinical in almost every aspect even outside the health system and when you arrive at the airport you find yourself to be a misfit because everything is so clinical and what more you go away with the impression that they have too much land. Come and visit the Arrival Immigration Hall in Terminal 3 and then make your comments.

    If we want to be improve we must not be glib. All religions say that we must be clean on the outside and also in the inside. Can we at least adhere to that. And someone said this. The level of your civilization is measured by the distance between you and your garbage.

  4. I WAS OFFICIALLY DISCHARGED TO ANOTHER DEPARTMENT, YESTERDAY!
    I was ill since 2012. Now this original group has officially TAICHI myself to another group or department.
    Will I get better? Not likely, if I continue to listen to all these “CELUP” doctors. One say one thing, only to countered by another doctor “CELUP” from another (future) visit.

    Both private and government hospital in Malaysia are equally PATHETIC.
    The entire healthcare facility in Malaysia are already DOOMED!
    From the very TOP, all the way to the BOTTOM feeders!

    I was working overseas for most of my life. Seen many wonderful things, wonderful concept, wonderful and caring ministers plus government (officials) but NONE IN MALAYSIA!

    Every single country that I visit, I take time to “EXPLORE” their “EDUCATION” and “HEALTHCARE”. Malaysia are BOTH PATHETIC on both counts! Since I fell ill and was remitted back against my wishes, by my so called ‘blood family’. I had a HUGE culture shock in Malaysia! From transport to every single thing! The same thing remained the same before I left! Actually it was was WORSE, at present, compared to before I left!

    Malaysia’s healthcare, both private and public are DEAD!
    Beyond saving !
    Useless to even try!
    Just let it die a natural death, a dignified death, if you would call it that way…

  5. The issue is complex. “Orang Malaya” is basically right.
    Hospital care consists of two major components — clinical care and “hotel services”. The hotel services component adds to the problem of rising healthcare costs. In public hospitals, the hotel services component should be held down to keep costs under control.

    Then there are the quality issues with respect to clinical care e.g. infection control or prevention of hospital-acquired infections (“nosocomial” infections); prevention of avoidable hospital re-admissions, avoidance of treatment and medication errors (“iatrogenic” errors), inexperienced surgeons making more errors than experienced surgeons, etc.

  6. One more comment:

    Singapore’s Medisave allows account holders to use these funds to seek cheaper hospital care at approved hospitals in Malaysia. This tells us something, doesn’t it?
    _________________
    Yes, because of the strong Sing. Dollar. But we are talking about medical tourism. Singapore is competing with Dubai for people with deep pockets, who want quality care. –Din Merican

  7. /// TLM March 9, 2016 at 8:17 am
    That is atypical put down of those who try to provide the best. ///

    TLM – do you mean “a typical” instead of “atypical”? Totally different meanings.

  8. /// Phua Kai Lit March 9, 2016 at 8:41 am
    The issue is complex. “Orang Malaya” is basically right.
    Hospital care consists of two major components — clinical care and “hotel services”. The hotel services component adds to the problem of rising healthcare costs. In public hospitals, the hotel services component should be held down to keep costs under control. ///

    PKL, these hospital are trying to capitalize on medical tourism. Most of the clients are Indonesians or from the Middle East and many come with their family members who also need hotel accommodation. By fusing the two components, it is actually cheaper. So, it makes sense to provide hotel services. In fact, Raffles Hospital tied up with Landmark Hotel next door.

    Yes, for those who just want the medical services, it is more expensive. That’s why the locals are complaining about higher charges.

  9. /// Phua Kai Lit March 9, 2016 at 8:44 am
    Singapore’s Medisave allows account holders to use these funds to seek cheaper hospital care at approved hospitals in Malaysia. This tells us something, doesn’t it? ///

    Yes it does. It tells us that land in Malaysia is a fraction of the cost of that in Singapore. That Malaysian hospitals can be built at a fraction of the cost of similar ones in Singapore. That Malaysians doctors are earning peanuts compared to those in Singapore.

    Singaporeans go to Johor every weekend to buy groceries and other cheap stuff. What it means is that cost of living in Singapore is generally higher. And that applies to healthcare. Sure, the move to medical tourism (to cater to the rich in the region who do not dare to rely on their own system) does push up healthcare cost in Singapore.

  10. Healthcare in Singapore is getting too expensive for ordinary Singaporeans themselves. Thus, the reason for PAP govt encouraging them to seek care in Malaysia. Take a look at the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) national healthcare plan. Which moi has contributed indirectly to 🙂

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