Unpredictable bills keeping foreign patients away

Singapore's ambition to be the region's top medical hub appears to be subsiding.

The high cost of medical procedures, diagnostic tests, accommodation and transportation and the strong Singapore dollar have been postulated as reasons for it losing its shine.

Government support to promote Singapore as a world-class healthcare destination also appears to have diminished; medical tourism is no longer seen as a key driver of our economy.

In the face of intense competition from cheaper alternatives in the region, Singapore has positioned itself as a destination for complex procedures.

However, even here, we appear to be faltering because our competitors have made massive improvements in their high-end treatments at far lower prices.

Private hospitals here blame higher operating costs for their escalating charges.

This should not be an issue, with well-heeled patients often willing to pay for high-quality treatment, positive outcomes, state-of-the-art facilities, a clean environment and well-developed infrastructure.

A big reason that is deterring foreign patients from seeking treatment in private hospitals in Singapore is probably the unpredictable final bill upon discharge.

The absence of fee guidelines also adds to the perception that our private specialists can charge as if the sky is the limit.

This issue affects every patient who demands value for money.

Private hospitals clamouring for more government support to stay ahead of intense regional competition must first be more upfront with their pricing.

Reducing the number of hidden costs and issuing less perplexing bills will make Singapore a more attractive medical tourist destination once more.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 23, 2017, with the headline 'Unpredictable bills keeping foreign patients away'. Print Edition | Subscribe