Third-party agents helpful in matching patients to docs

I hope Singaporeans will correctly understand the significance of the new medical code of ethics by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) ("Doctors barred from paying agents percentage of fees"; Dec 14).

I agree with SMC president Tan Ser Kiat that a doctor's duty is to always place patients' best interests above business.

To further improve Singapore's healthcare, we have to understand why some third-party agents (TPA) receive a percentage of the fees doctors get from patients.

To put it simply, they have more information networks than ordinary people.

When you are sick, how do you find the doctor who would offer you the best possible care? If you do not know any family physicians, the support of a TPA might be of great help.

TPAs are also helpful for doctors - specialists in particular - who want to treat cases solely in their specific fields.

It all boils down to an important factor: the lack of an effective doctor-patient matching system. This is an issue that not only affects Singapore, but also other countries.

Next, attention should be paid to how TPAs work for patients.

The SMC points out the problematic cases of some companies referred to as a medical concierge that simply collects payment in return for introducing a patient to a doctor.

In this age of rapidly advancing complex medicine, however, the role of trustworthy medical concierges is becoming important.

While people today have an insatiable appetite for information, they are also bewildered by conflicting information, with little means of determining the therapies or doctors.

People need an expert to work with them in making appropriate choices.

A critical role of medical concierges is to serve as a partner for patients in the realm of health and well-being. Medical concierges need to differentiate themselves from other healthcare providers by playing a distinctive role in sustaining good doctor-patient relationships and integrating the care that patients receive from within and outside the hospitals.

In this age of healthcare that places importance on patients' values and preferences, it is essential that patients play the leading role in the management of their own health.

I believe that the sophisticated use of information technology would create a transparent system that enables patients to find the appropriate therapies and doctors.

Hajime Ichiseki (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2016, with the headline 'Third-party agents helpful in matching patients to docs'. Print Edition | Subscribe