Cost issues ailing Singapore medical tourism

Source: The Straits Times  11 May 2015

I AM not surprised that Singapore has lost its shine among medical tourists (“S’pore ‘losing medical tourists to neighbours’ “; last Friday).

Our neighbours are not only significantly cheaper, but they have also narrowed the gap in the quality of care, as they acquire new capabilities and modern facilities.

When choosing a medical destination, patients look at the level of expertise, available procedures, price, accreditation and accessibility.

In the past, the lack of medical expertise in their home countries pushed well-heeled patients overseas. However, escalating healthcare costs in Singapore and our strong currency are causing patients to seek treatment at home or elsewhere.

Malaysia, for instance, is making its mark in comprehensive health screenings and cosmetic surgery.

Apart from having strong medical infrastructure and expertise, including Western and Singapore-trained doctors, Malaysia also caps medical fees to prevent overcharging.

In Thailand, tourism officials are marketing the country as an attractive destination for cosmetic surgery. Legal loopholes also draw patients there for procedures such as sexual reassignment.

India is now among the leading destinations for cardiac treatments in the world. It is also renowned for hip and joint replacement surgery.

The country offers not only low prices but also many of the latest advances in medical technology.

Apart from having lower charges, foreign hospitals are also far more willing to provide upfront price quotes. In contrast, private hospitals in Singapore are generally unwilling to provide such information, and will give only rough estimates when pressed.

The absence of fee guidelines also adds to the perception that Singapore doctors can charge as if the sky is the limit.

Hopefully, the loss of medical tourists will prompt private hospitals here to be more upfront about their fees and have fewer hidden costs than they currently include in their bills.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock


S’pore pricing itself out of retail, medical tourism

The problems facing the retail sector and the dearth of foreign patients for certain complex operations (“Making Singapore a great retail destination again” and “Why we must have foreign patients“; both published on July 22) share a common factor: costs.

In the 70s and 80s, Singapore had regular double-digit annual tourist growth because we were unique, cheap and safe, offering an eclectic mix of the exotic and the esoteric, facilitated by our good location.

Similarly,we attracted foreign medical tourists with a winning combination of excellent medical care at bargain rates compared to established institutes in the West.

Our advantages evanesced as soon as we moved the shopping experience into vast and faceless malls and mall operators started to charge exorbitant rents, which only big chains with their global franchises could afford.

There is a market for this for sure, but the vitality and the vim is gone – shoppers now gravitate towards Bangkok and Hong Kong where the high couture inclined can find satisfaction while others can still revel in sweaty shopping at street markets for far more captivating and pocket-friendly local products.

Similarly, in the medical arena, our quest to be the best in the last 30 years has led to astronomical costs for medical tourists.

Where there is some compromise in investigative, operative and therapeutic regimes (indiscernible to the patient), the savings are very substantial for patients who opt for treatment at other cheaper medical centres in the region.

The less discriminating patient cannot appreciate the marginally better morbidity and mortality statistics our institutions offer, not when we cost multiples of what others charge and the finished product looks the same superficially.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)