THE rising costs of construction, land, medicine, as well as utilities and staffing, are among the reasons behind the spike in private healthcare fees in the country, says the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia.
New hospitals in particular, are facing increasingly expensive construction and land costs as private hospitals need to be located in urban, easily accessible areas.
Existing ones don’t have it easy either because they need to be refurbished, said Datuk Dr Jacob Thomas, chairman of the Association of Private Hospitals.
Asked why hospitals needed to be refurbished so often, he said: “It’s spread out. If you look at some of our hospitals, there’s a continuous process of refurbishment. You can’t close down the whole hospital and start refurbishing. So, you go floor by floor. By the time you finish the last floor, it’ll be time to start again,” he said.
But the major contributing factor to rising costs is not construction or refurbishment — it’s medication.
“It is escalating yearly and newer medicines keep coming out. If you look at cancer drugs, one dose could cost a few thousand ringgit.”
The other aspect is medical supplies.
“The price of catheters, stents, or even bigger items like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines — all are going up. For equipment like MRI machines, we have to change it every three years at the very least.
“Hospitals need to have the latest and the best because it makes such a difference in the diagnosis of a patient.”
Utility costs have also shot up, said Dr Thomas. “And unlike hotels, which enjoy preferred rates, hospitals don’t.”
On top of that, the industry has to compete with hospitals in higher paying countries, like Saudi Arabia, to retain their staff.
Government hospitals have also been pinching their experienced staff with better remuneration packages, he claimed.
“We lost over 300 nurses to the government last year. We complained but they told us to pay our nurses more or take in unemployed ones instead. That means extra costs as we have to train them first as these nurses were originally unemployed because their training was inadequate.”
The recent attack of a gynaecologist in Subang Jaya, which saw her thumb and forefinger being severed, had also spooked many doctors, said Dr Thomas.
“They are asking for extra protection when they are on night shifts or on night calls. If you notice, for Sime Darby, we have started employing guards.”
All these, he argued, had translated to extra costs which is reflected in the patient’s bills.
“Every single sen we spend has to be recovered. Fortunately, many of our hospitals are owned by large corporations like Khazanah (Nasional Bhd), KPJ (Healthcare Bhd), Sime Darby (Bhd), Berjaya (Corp Bhd). The smaller ones are actually struggling; they can only provide secondary and primary care.”
However, Dr Thomas could not provide figures on how much private healthcare had increased in recent years, claiming that APHM did not keep such figures.
He pointed out, however, that Malaysia’s private healthcare remains one of the cheapest in the region.
“Our healthcare quality is good, too. Why do you think we got over 700,000 medical tourists here last year?”
He also rubbished talk that those with medical insurance paid more for their treatment.
“On the contrary, we keep the bills as low as possible,” he said, explaining that most of the items used were individually prepackaged to minimise the risk of infections, such as gauze and cotton balls. The rest were made of disposable plastics.
“Say, in dressing a wound, the doctor would request and be given what is typically needed on a prepackaged dressing tray. If there is need for more, more would be requested. Otherwise, what has been used and opened will be disposed of.”