Sociology Index

Medical Tourism In Singapore

Medical Tourism

Singapore, a regional leader in medicine, received the most foreign patients a decade ago. Indonesians, Malaysians and Bruneians came here for treatment in large numbers. But the island republic's increased prosperity has also increased the fees. It is now working on gaining status as a reliable venue for complicated rather than routine procedures. Singapore Medicine, is a new government agency dedicated to promoting the city-state as a destination for medical treatment. Despite the setback of rising costs, Singapore is adapting. It aims to reinforce perceptions that it is the leading provider of sophisticated medical care in the region, even if patients wanting routine care opt to go somewhere less expensive.

According to Khaw Boon Wan, acting minister for health and senior minister of state in the ministry of finance, "In three specialties alone, heart, eye and cancer, I see millions of middle-class patients within a seven-hour flying radius, waiting to be served," He added Singapore's long-held ambition of becoming a regional medical hub had not yet fully blossomed, and acknowledged that meeting the government's new target, five times the number of patients who currently visit annually, will be a challenge.

With a healthcare delivery system ranked sixth by the World Health Organisation (WHO), Singapore has stepped on the accelerator to aggressively market itself as a healthcare destination in the region, including India. Its top-rung hospitals have India circled in red, as a destination to market its healthcare services. And this, even as India itself hard-sells "medical tourism." 

More than two lakh international patients travel to Singapore every year, say representatives of SingaporeMedicine, a multi-agency government initiative aimed at making Singapore a medical hub for global patients. Neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia account for a lion's share of these numbers, but patients from India are on the rise, they observe.

"There is enough room for both Singapore and India, and the two countries can complement each other's medical specialities," points out Ms Jeannie Lim Suet Ying, Assistant Director, SingaporeMedicine. "Besides, Singapore is looking to wean away the outbound Indian patient who goes to the US or the UK for medical treatment," she adds.

"Medical costs in Singapore are about 40 per cent less than in the US and 60 per cent less than in the UK," says Mr Debanjan Sen of Tan Tock Seng, the public hospital designated to handle the volumes of patients during the SARS crisis. According to officials, Indian patients are sizeable enough to go out and generate more interest in the Indian market.

Another "public hospital" with designs on India is the National University Hospital (NUH). "We already have about 180 in-patients and another 2,649 outpatients from India in 2002. We should be going into India, with marketing offices, later this year," says NUH's Mr Kamaljeet Singh Gill.

Singapore's private healthcare providers are no different. The Parkway Group Healthcare already has a presence in India through one of its three group-hospital Gleneagles, which has a joint-venture project, Apollo Gleneagles, in Kolkata.

Similarly, RafflesMedicalGroup (RMG) has plans to expand into India and the region through marketing initiatives and alliances, says RMG's Mr Saw Chit Aung. It is in discussion with tour operators Jet Air to design packages for medical tourists.

"Hospitals in Singapore have been inward looking till now. But we are increasingly looking to bring in international patients since we can offer them quality services," sums up Dr Fidah Alsagoff, with Singapore General Hospital, the country's public sector flagship hospital.

Singapore aims to bring in one million foreign patients by 2012, adding S$3 billion to the government kitty.