Singapore, a regional medical tourism hub, received the most foreign patients since a decade when Indonesians, Malaysians and Bruneians started coming 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."
"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.
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.