Medical Tourism in Singapore

Medical Tourism in Singapore

Medical Tourism in Singapore

Medical tourism is expanding rapidly in Singapore. There are many reasons for this, not least the evolution in technology and the increasing affordability of travel. The World Health Organisation recently ranked this small city state as having the world's sixth-best health care system, and Asia's highest. The Singaporean government has ambitious plans to maintain this trend, aiming to attract an annual turnover of a million patients.

The visitors attending Singapore's facilities from neighbouring countries include rising numbers from Indonesia, Indochina and Malaysia. It is testament to the services on offer that patients continue to arrive from the UK and the USA.

The healthcare services on offer are varied. Singapore launched the National University Heart Centre – the region's first cardiology clinic aimed specifically at women. In addition to first class cardiac surgery, other specialities include gastroenterology, neurology, oncology, orthopaedics and stem cell therapy, as well as general surgery.

Parkway Pantai Ltd (PPL), part of the IHH Healthcare Berhad Group, one of Asia's largest and most prestigious private health groups, operate several establishments in Singapore. All accredited by Joint Commission International, these include Gleneagles Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Hospital and Parkway East Hospital, and are staffed by upwards of 1,200 fully-qualified medical specialists.

Reasons for medical tourism

There are two fundamental reasons for the rise in medical tourists visiting Singapore. Firstly, the most important aspect of the healthcare being offered is its sheer quality rather than any cost issues. Secondly, the market offering the clearest signs of potential growth is no longer the long-established route emanating from Western Europe or North America, but the newer and rapidly-expanding areas of Asia and Eastern Europe.

Singapore's renowned expertise in specialist care and high-end surgical procedures has also promoted a steady rise in the influx of visitors from neighbouring countries. PPL now report that those enquiring about places in any of their institutions are now just as likely to be calling from anywhere around the Java Sea and the surrounds.

The Raffles Medical Group (RMG), one of Singapore's most striking success stories, began with just two clinics in 1976. They now boast over a million patients and 6,500 corporate clients, including government agencies and local and multi-national corporations. RMG reported an increase of more than 25% in their medical tourist admissions last year. The overwhelming majority of these were from Indonesia.

Singapore's location is central to its attraction. For Indonesians seeking to take advantage of its reasonably-priced healthcare, its world-class facilities are one flight away. There is any number of reasons given by medical tourists for making the short journey over the Java Sea. In one example, when relating his experiences of his nearby hospital in Jakarta, 54-year-old heart patient Widjil Trionggo stated: "They wanted to cut into my chest first then specify the cost afterwards". The recommended procedure also included tackling his blocked arteries with balloon angioplasty, where the surgeons would insert stents into the vessels. Widjill noted his local doctors didn't know exactly how many stents would be required. Disillusioned by the levels of Indonesian expertise, he flew out to Malaysia, where the recommendation was a heart bypass.

Widjill's experience of contrasting diagnoses is typical. Another Indonesian medical tourist, Siaw Kian, aged 57, gave straightforward reasons for booking into a Singaporean clinic. This was a far more preferable option to enduring the healthcare offered by her local hospital in Jambi: "Service is fast. We had good information on what the doctors wanted to do and the charges were almost similar or even cheaper than if we had gone to hospitals (at home)".

The large numbers of medical tourists coming from Indonesia owes much to word of mouth recommendations. A marketing manager for PPL, Suwandi Leo, cites patient referrals as being key to building trust in Singaporean healthcare: "The best spokespeople are the patients".

Leo acknowledges the invaluable contribution of medical tourists to the success of his institution, with foreign patients accounting for over one-third of all admissions. Indonesians choosing to visit do so at their own initiative; or when compelled to do so by their own doctors. Admission statistics ingathered since 2009 demonstrate that the three hospitals in the PPL have been treating an average of 37 Indonesian patients per day, with each staying for an average of 3.7 days. They are being treated for diverse conditions; as straightforward as routine check-ups or as complex as strokes, cancer or heart disease remedies.

What makes the large figures for Indonesian medical tourism even more interesting is the fact that, compared to the costs of health care in Indonesia, treatment in Singapore is relatively high. Additionally, because Indonesians are not always guaranteed to be covered by private health policies, they tend to pay for their visits to Singapore out of their own pocket.

This conclusion has been underscored by Kamaljeet Singh Gill, a marketing executive at PPL, who has commented that the numbers of overseas medical tourists arriving in Singapore is continuing to rise. "We have foreign patients from as far as Finland, but Indonesia is our largest foreign-based market country".

Demographic trends

American and British tourists were traditionally the likeliest candidates for taking advantage of Singapore's healthcare system, but with lower prices in neighbouring countries, particularly India, Malaysia and Thailand, more and more tourists are coming from Asia. In fact, as localised economies have begun to outstrip healthcare developments, there has been a considerable demographic shift in medical tourists visiting Singapore. Those foreign patients who have been inspired to take advantage of its enviable healthcare services now account for the top five health visitor nationalities. Almost half of all foreign patients now hail from Indonesia, with neighbouring Malaysians tallying at around 12%. Next are Bangladeshis at 5%, Vietnamese at 4% and Burmese at 3%.

The worldwide financial downturn at the end of 2009 undoubtedly caused a sharp dip in Singapore's medical tourist trade. However, there are strong indications that the plucky city state is bouncing back. According to Singapore's highest-selling newspaper, The Straits Times, the total figures of international patients is rising again. The government have reiterated this observation; indeed, the Ministry of Health, along with the Singapore Tourism Board, have published some startling findings. In 2011 Singapore welcomed almost 36,000 medical tourists. This influx helped boost the city state's economy to the tune of almost S$1 billion (US$806.9 million).

Medical tourists tend to book into private hospitals for treatment where procedures are not so expensive (foreign patients don't enjoy any subsidies at Singapore's public facilities). While a lot of these tourists are attracted to specialist services, the majority undergo general surgery.

But there are even more compelling reasons for patients gravitating towards Singapore, not least the fact that over one-third of its residents are English-speaking. This extrapolates to even higher numbers in the medical community, indicating just how developed the Asian city state has become.

Attracting patients

The Singaporean government has been quick to capitalise on the potential investment opportunities afforded by tens of thousands of medical tourists flooding into the country. They have set out bold plans to attract one million medical tourists and statistics ingathered by the Singapore Tourist Board have indicated they are well on the way to realising this, with the 2012 tally sitting at 850,000. (The one note of caution acknowledged by the Board is the fact that these overall totals do not differentiate between actual medical tourists and holiday or business travellers who have used the facilities).

Westerners once provided a steady turnover of patients seeking cheap but effective treatment from Singapore healthcare professionals. Nowadays visitors are arriving for completely different reasons. While money remains a concern, more visitors are coming because they know they will receive excellent medical service. India, Malaysia and Thailand are now increasingly competitive in many areas, such as ballooning and stenting of blocked arteries, heart surgery and cataract operations. This state of the art surgical care extends to organ transplants and cancer treatments.

The costs of health screening in Singapore can be anything between 500 and 2,000 Singapore dollars (equivalent to between 400 and 1,600 US dollars). These are not unduly high figures; however, for the PPL hospitals they represent tens of thousands of paying patients per annum. PPL offer treatment packages to help prospective patients to decide the best course of action. These packages even cover the trickier procedures, such as liver transplants. Prior to any operation, the patient and the medical staff will discuss the costs of various procedures, ensuring patients get a good idea of the bill that will be presented to them at the conclusion.

If the various Singapore healthcare institutions can rely on patient testimonials to spread the word on their superb services, technology is also providing excellent marketing tools.

Social media

Social media is being harnessed to promote the benefits of the healthcare institutions run by PPL, the RMG and others. Marketing executives are now targeting prospective customers in neighbouring countries, with virtual campaigns being unleashed across Facebook or Twitter. Indonesians are particularly susceptible to this type of advertising, as they are amongst the globe's most enthusiastic and prolific users of social media.


Similarly, mobile phone apps are being deployed to attract would-be medical tourists across the Java Sea. Again, these are proving to be an effective tool for gaining the attention of customers in Indonesia, a country with a high percentage of mobile phone users.


Healthcare institutions are adopting visual media as a way of hooking-in interested parties. It is one thing to receive a glowing report about the standards of service in Singapore from a former patient, but to actually be able to witness aspects of this care in an informative film is even better.


Potential Indonesian medical tourists might also be influenced as part of a broader e-learning initiative. Computer-based and web-based instruction courses will emphasise the cutting edge technology that is being championed by Singapore's medical establishments.

Changing face of Singapore industry

Changing face of Singapore industry

The changing face of Singapore industry

Recent research into demographic trends in Singapore has revealed that industry is beginning to demonstrate subtle changes in growth. Where wholesale and manufacturing industries were once prominent on the economic landscape, there has been an inexorable shift towards companies in transport and construction. There has also been a lot of expansion in the hospitality sector.

The local newspaper The Straits Times has reported that these facts are reflected in the list of the 50 fastest growing companies in Singapore, as compiled by the DP Information Group. The Group compiles its listings by applying various criteria to a qualifying short-list of companies who have maintained profitability and double-digit revenue growth over three years.

The hardest hit sector of the Singapore economy was undoubtedly financial companies. The recent global crisis has left many economies reeling, and while Singapore has managed to weather the worst of the storms, the markets remain volatile and unpredictable. As a result of the crisis, between 12 and 25 fewer firms were unable to meet the specific criteria for the case study.

Financial companies, battered by the recent financial crisis, predictably took the biggest hit this year, with 12 or 25 fewer firms unable to meet the criteria.

Manufacturing was the next worst hit, 56 firms qualified - down from last year's total of 75. While the wholesale sector was reliably well covered by the terms of the survey, with a sizeable 108 firms fully meeting the criteria, this figure was actually 13 fewer than the comparable figures from last year.

These figures could be compared to 17 more transport firms, and 14 more involved in the construction industry, compared to the same totals in these sectors from 12 months ago. The transport sector actually matched the wholesale industry by contributing four companies in the survey's top 10.

Successful young entrepreneurs

successful young entrepreneurs

Singapore's successful young entrepreneurs

If there is one aspect of life in Singapore that is particularly encouraging, it's the fact that young people are encouraged to express themselves from an early age. This definitely fosters a strong entrepreneurial spirit amongst the island state's youth.

Amongst the up-and-coming business people from Singapore who have embarked on successful financial careers from a tender age are Chua U-Zyn. Typical of the inventive and mature outlook of so many Singaporeans, he began to experiment with basic computer programs aged seven. After many years spent developing and honing his skills, he founded, a service aimed at providing a platform for Singapore's dedicated regiments of online bloggers. U-Zyn became so successful because of his intrinsic knowledge of what his community aspired to. To this day, is a continuing success story, with users posting over 5,000 individual blogs each day.

Another inspirational Singaporean entrepreneur is Paddy Tan Lek Han. At a young age he saw the possibilities for anti-theft devices, and went on to pioneer a series of unique lost-and-found services, under the mantle of Bak2U. The main motivation behind this remarkable young businessman was to provide a better life for his parents, a commendable aspiration that he has more than fulfilled with the success of his enterprise.

The blogging community was also the driving force behind, the brainchild of Cheo Ming Shen. is a vibrant blog advertising community that enjoys high traffic ratings in Singapore. "Being a boss, a salesman, and a client all at once is a challenge you do not get anywhere else but in business."

The internet is undoubtedly proving to be an inspiration for so many of the island state's budding dot com millionaires. Chew Choon Keat set up (deadlink now), established as a platform to allow users to share interesting web pages. Recycling web content in such an audacious way might seem like such a no-brainer that it is surely remarkable no-one had thought of doing it before. Chew Choom Keat's unique take was to run with a basic idea and employ some dazzlingly speedy execution to get the site up-and-running. Once he had created his little slice of the web market, he could begin experimenting to fine-tune his entrepreneurial ideas.

Another fine example of Singapore's often apparently limitless pool of young talent is Herryanto Siatono, a web application designer responsible for two ultra-cool sites. Pluit is a web application design and development house, producing superior ideas for quality sites. His other venture, BookJetty, is an online platform specifically designed to allow cataloguing of book collections, as well as the ability to follow friends' bookshelves.

Natural riches in Singapore

Natural riches in Singapore

Singapore's natural riches

Singapore is characterized by its densely populated and highly urbanized environment. However, what is less well known is the fact that this small Asian state is also renowned for its natural beauty. A familiar image may be of clustering skyscrapers but the 63 separate islands that make up Singapore harbor many ecological wonders. The Singaporean government has been quick to acknowledge the wealth of natural resources on its own doorstep.

The whole Singapore region was once teeming with rainforests. Centuries of civilization and settlement have severely curtailed this resource, to the extent that the Bukit Timah Reserve remains the only significant example (occupying 400 acres near the centre of Singapore). What this area lacks in size is more than made up for by natural heritage. This forest contains over 800 species of flowering plants and well over 500 species of fauna. In 2011 the reserve was declared an Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Heritage Park.

Speaking in the Singapore Parliament recently, Nominated MP Geh Min drew attention to a particular tree growing in Singapore's Botanic Garden – one whose importance to the scientific community considerably outweighs is inconspicuous position amongst Singapore's last remaining rainforests.

Back in 1992, a scientist from the USA's National Cancer Institute (NCI) dropped in on Singapore to discover if the Calophyllum tree grew in this environment. A sample had originally been found in Sarawak, although that site had been cleared by the time the researcher returned to the location. However, the species that he came across in the Botanic Gardens was similar – the Calophyllum lanigerum. The significance of this discovery lay in the fact that this plant contains Calanolide A, a compound which scientific researcher from the NCI have demonstrated to have an ability to prevent the onslaught of full-blown AIDS in individuals who have the HIV virus.

The potential life-prolonging elements inherent in this plant species have led to further clinical tests, with Dr Geh having described the 'magic chemical' present in Calophyllum lanigerum. "Our nature areas have, after long neglect, come to be valued for their recreational, heritage and even educational functions, all of which are difficult to quantify. But their potential scientific and economic value is still not properly recognised."