Healthcare industry should work towards sustainable common good

The rise in healthcare spending is inevitable as Singapore's resident population ages.
The rise in healthcare spending is inevitable as Singapore's resident population ages.PHOTO: ST FILE

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments on the need to think hard about what we must spend on, and which drugs and procedures are cost-effective struck a chord (Hard choices need to be made for sustainable healthcare: PM, March 24), with Singapore's healthcare receipts already exceeding $9 billion.

The rise in healthcare spending is inevitable as Singapore's resident population ages.

The median age of Singapore residents increased to 40.8 years in 2018, and the proportion of residents aged 65 years and over increased to 13.7 per cent in 2018.

The healthcare industry has to make a concerted effort to ensure sustainable development, instead of having the overriding objective of profit maximisation.

Patients are not in a position to decide if a particular treatment is necessary, and rely on the doctor to advise them.

Initiatives that allow patients to compare medical and surgical fees charged by different hospitals only add to the confusion.

Insurance companies play a very important role by scrutinising medical claims closely and challenging the hospitals on the cost of treatment and drugs. But when claims are rejected, this ends up hurting patients more than it helps to keep healthcare institutions diligent.

Perhaps the Government could introduce a mechanism which would pay healthcare institutions only what the insurance companies assess to be a fair amount, to protect customers from being over-charged.

The Government should take the lead in ensuring affordable healthcare by scrutinising how services are delivered, and not just dish out subsidies.

Government hospitals and polyclinics are already harnessing technology to increase productivity and manage costs, which should be encouraged.

With the Government and Singaporeans having to make hard choices as healthcare expenditure increases, it is time the healthcare industry aligned its interests with the common good so that all stakeholders can work towards the goal of sustainable healthcare.

Ee Teck Siew

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2019, with the headline 'Healthcare industry should work towards sustainable common good'. Print Edition | Subscribe