By Ng Wan Ching
More Singaporeans are travelling across the Causeway for not only health checks, but also operations, including dental and gynaecologic procedures
Mr Johnson Tan and his wife (first two in the right row) enjoying grilled seafood on a trip to Malacca where he also did screening tests and an eyelid procedure. — PHOTOS: HEALTH MEDICAL INTERNATIONAL
Many Singaporeans travel to Malaysia to enjoy the food and shopping there.
Now, more are also going there for health care – and not just health screening.
As Singaporeans and permanent residents have been allowed, since March 2010, to draw on their compulsory medical savings Medisave for treatment in accredited hospitals across the Causeway, more have been going for operations – at least in two Singapore-owned hospitals. These include obstetric and gynaecologic, orthopaedic and dental surgery.
Marketing efforts by the accredited hospitals have also helped to raise awareness of their services and encouraged the numbers to grow.
Mahkota Medical Centre in Malacca has had a 25 per cent increase since March 2010 in the number of Singapore patients, said a spokesman.
It has already seen more than 600 Singapore patients so far this year, more than the 500 in 2010 and 570 last year. It treats about 250,000 patients a year, including more than 60,000 patients from outside Malaysia.
Patients from Singapore go there for a variety of medical needs, with the top three being health screening, delivery of babies and dental cases, said its spokesman.
Training consultant Choo Wee Meng, 45, had laser treatment for his face and root-canal treatment there this year. He is now considering going there for sinus surgery as well.
The bachelor, who is happy with the results of his treatment, said: ‘As far as I am concerned, the standard there is dependable. It’s certainly up to my expectations. Of course, it helps to know that the centre is run by Singaporeans.’
Other common procedures that Singapore patients go across the Causeway for include cataract surgery; ear, nose and throat procedures, such as sinus surgery; orthopaedic surgery, including knee replacement; hysterectomy (womb removal) and ureteric stenting, in which a thin tube is inserted into the ureter to prevent or treat obstruction of urine from the kidneys.
The centre is also seeing growing demand for screening tests such as computed tomography (CT) scan for the heart, which uses X-rays and computers to create detailed images that allow doctors to see diseased arteries; and colonoscopy, in which a flexible tube is used to check for abnormalities in the internal lining of the colon and rectum.
The hospital is owned and operated by Singapore private health-care group Health Management International (HMI), which also owns and runs Regency Specialist Hospital (RSH) in Johor Baru.
RSH has seen an even sharper increase of 150 per cent in the number of Singapore patients travelling there for treatment since March 2010.
It sees more than 1,000 Singapore patients a year, up from more than 400 Singapore patients in 2010.
The top three health-care requests by Singapore patients there are health screening; obstetric and gynaecologic procedures; and endoscopy, including colonoscopy and gastroscopy, which uses a scope inserted through the mouth to examine the stomach.
Under the rules relaxed in 2010, patients who are residents in Singapore can tap on their Medisave for day surgery and hospitalisation in overseas hospitals that have an approved working arrangement with a Medisave-accredited institution here.
The attending doctor here has to certify the patient’s condition and the necessity of treatment, before referring the patient to such an overseas hospital.
So far, only two private health-care providers – HMI and Parkway Pantai – have been allowed to refer patients who want to use Medisave to their hospitals in Malaysia.
This liberalisation of Medisave, combined with lower costs, makes it more attractive for a few of their patients to travel to Malaysia for health care, said the HMI spokesman.
‘Medisave cases – an average of about 40 a year – make up a small proportion of the total number of cases. The majority of Medisave cases are for obstetrics (deliveries),’ she said.
Prices at both hospitals are, on average, 50 to 80per cent cheaper than those in Singapore, mainly due to lower land, building and labour costs.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Singapore said the ability to use Medisave for elective hospitalisation overseas gives Singaporeans more options and helps them stretch their Medisave dollars.
It helps that the hospitals accredited for Medisave use are Singapore-run and are credible, she said.
One Singaporean medical student even travelled to Mahkota Medical Centre for a week-long internship.
Ms Evelyn Wong, 21, a third-year student from the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, wanted to see a different spectrum of patients there.
Another perk for patients is the chance to have a holiday as well.
But these are not the only reasons for the spurt in the number of Singapore patients at these two hospitals.
The hospitals owned by Parkway Pantai did not seem to have a similar increase in the number of patients from Singapore.
Since the liberalisation of Medisave to pay for medical treatment at certain hospitals in Malaysia, the number of Singapore patients referred to Parkway Pantai’s hospitals in Malaysia has remained stable, said a spokesman.
‘Most of them are maternity cases,’ she said.
The group, which owns and operates two Gleneagles hospitals in Kuala Lumpur and Penang and nine Pantai hospitals in six Malaysian states, declined to provide any figures.
Traditionally, these hospitals have been serving mainly patients residing in Malaysia, said the spokesman.
Overall, the number of patients from Singapore who use their Medisave in Malaysia is much smaller than the number going there for treatment.
The number of patients from Singapore who used their Medisave in Malaysian hospitals was 69 between March and December 2010, the Ministry of Health said.
Last year, the number was 138.
These patients include both Singapore citizens and permanent residents, who make up the majority.
The increase in Singapore patient numbers at HMI hospitals is mainly due to marketing efforts, including tie-ups with associations and corporate groups, and recommendations by patients to others, said its spokesman.
‘Patients get to enjoy a weekend trip, spending time with family and friends, with shopping and eating thrown in, while they are there getting a procedure done,’ she said.
An added sweetener, said many patients, is the two-way multi-purpose vehicle transport provided by both Mahkota Medical Centre and RSH for their patients travelling from Singapore since March 2010.
Parkway Pantai does not provide transport for patients from Singapore, where it runs four private hospitals.
FACILITIES BEING UPGRADED
Both hospital groups are giving people living in Singapore more reasons to cross the border.
Mahkota Medical Centre has just completed a RM7.2 million (S$2.88million) upgrading of its facilities.
In the last few months, it has launched its newly renovated dental centre and health-screening centre, as well as a new aesthetic centre headed by a full-time plastic surgeon and two general practitioners.
It has budgeted RM5 million more for further upgrading in the next two years.
Parkway Pantai is building the 300-bed Gleneagles Medini Hospital in the Iskandar region in Johor Baru, which is slated to start operations by the end of 2014.
‘It is expected to attract patients from within and outside Malaysia,’ said its spokesman.
Transport to Malacca and accommodation there were paid by Health Management International.