‘Indonesia has good basic healthcare and is advancing rapidly’

The growing number of people seeking high healthcare standards and cheaper treatments than those in their home countries while having a holiday has contributed to the emergence of the tiny nation of Singapore as an Asian medical tourism hub in the past decade.

Carla Albertí de la Rosa spoke with Dr Kelvin Loh Chi-Keon, chief executive of Mount Elisabeth Hospital, part of Parkway Group Healthcare that lead Singapore in the field of medical travel.

Patient First: Dr Kelvin Loh Chi-Keon.


Q What percentage of medical tourists does Mount Elisabeth Hospital receive annually and where do most come from?

A Of the total patients 47 percent are foreign and most come from Indonesia.

Q What treatments are more in demand and is cosmetic surgery popular?

A Mount Elisabeth Hospital is a tertiary private hospital. It means we provide a wide range of care but in particular, cardiology, oncology, neurosurgery and orthopaedic surgery are our strengths. We do have patients that come for cosmetic surgery but not a great amount.

Q What makes Singapore a popular destination for medical tourists?

A Singapore in general has high healthcare standards. It’s well organised and efficient so things can be done quickly and effectively. In Mount Elisabeth in particular we have 500 active accredited specialists experienced in their particular fields. There’s a great depth of clinical expertise. 
Another factor that attracts medical tourists is our medical technology. We have state-of-the-art technology. We had the first 320-slice CT scan machine in Asia a few years ago. Its advantage is that it can do a coronary angiogram within one heartbeat. Patients don’t have to go through an invasive procedure and it’s much faster.
We also take pride in being able to deliver an individualised service to patients that come from all over the world.

Q What role does the government have in encouraging medical tourism?

A The Singapore government is very supportive. It makes healthcare very accessible for foreigners. Government hospitals have a good standard and meet the local demand of the population, which enables private hospitals to serve patients from overseas.

Q What are the prices like in Singapore compared to the US or Europe, for example?

A I can talk about prices at Mount Elisabeth Hospital. For most procedures prices are easily approximately 40 percent to 50 percent lower. For example, a knee replacement surgery staying in a four patient bedroom would cost S$70,000 (US$50,000)in America. The same thing would cost S$17,000 in Mount Elisabeth Hospital.

Q Singapore has just implemented an elective overseas hospitalisation option for members of its healthcare programme, Medisave. Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan says Singaporeans can save up to 50 percent if they are treated in Malaysia. Will this affect hospitals in Singapore?

A It’s a positive measure that gives patients additional choices. Patients who are very conscious about the price will have other options. For Mount Elisabeth Hospital it’s a good move and it will not affect the hospital much because people come here because of our reputation from all over the world. This measure will also lower waiting times for some conditions in government hospitals.

Q Are there different treatments or procedures that are available in Singapore that would compel someone to travel?

A At Mount Elisabeth, liver transplants, repeated cardiac bypass surgery or brain tumours that are hard to reach.

Q What’s your impression of the standard of hospital care in Bali?

A To be honest I don’t know much about hospital care in Bali. I don’t have enough information about Bali, but I do have the impression that Indonesia has good basic healthcare and is advancing rapidly.
I’m aware that in Jakarta, for example, in the last five years there are at least 10 more hospitals.

Q Bangkok is more renowned for medical tourism. Is Singapore late catching up?

A I think we have a slightly different niche and I don’t believe Bangkok is more renowned. We are not necessarily competing. Foreign patients who come to Mount Elisabeth Hospital have complex medical conditions. Demand for healthcare in the region is growing because of population growth and aging population; so there’s space for both of us.

Q Does Singapore provide treatment not generally available elsewhere?

A It’s hard to generalise. I can’t really comment on that.

Q How many patients does Mount Elisabeth Hospital get from Bali – and all Indonesia – annually?

A We have 12,000 admissions coming from Indonesia and 250 coming from Bali.

Q What’s your view on alternative treatments that can be combined with hospital treatments?

A It’s possible. Alternative therapies can be combined with mainstream medicine and have a good result. Patients’ wellbeing also involves emotional and psychological factors that alternative therapies can help with. For example, chronic back pain might require surgery. The use of acupuncture after surgery could be positive. 

Q Singapore is ideally placed in Southeast Asia as a medevac centre, for most areas more easily and more quickly accessible than Australia. Is this factor seen as a growth market for Singapore hospitals, part of their business plans?

A Yes, its location and the efficient transport system helps. It contributes to this and makes things easier for patients.

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