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What is the difference between private and public health in Singapore ?
Healthcare is high on the Singaporean government’s agenda. Indeed, the country has done itself proud with one of the most performing healthcare system, according to Bloomberg’s annual report Most Efficient Health Care 2014. As in many countries in the world, Singapore has a public and a private sector. Many expatriates prefer private facilities while seeking the best quality of care. Yet there are only few differences between the two sectors.
Managing and financing
In order to understand the difference between public and private healthcare in Singapore, you have to know that those two sectors are managed and financed separately. Public facilities are subsidised par the government, which sell licences to companies such as Singhealth. Those companies then manage the hospitals and polyclinics. Their objective is to provide patients with high quality treatment at the best possible price. Private hospitals in Singapore are run independently as companies, with sometimes real businessmen at the top-management. They are free to design their organization and set their prices (more information down below).
Admission is one of the main differences between the two sectors. You will get an appointment very quickly at a private hospital (sometimes the day you call or the day after) whereas it takes about 3 to 6 days at a public hospital. You may also wait longer at a public hospital for an accident and emergency than at a private hospital (this depends on the type of emergency, the day of the week or the moment of the day) simply because lower fees generate more demand in public facilities.
Besides, a private hospital may offer you additional services such as a shuttle to pick you up at home and take you to the hospital. Note that in case of an accident or an emergency, if you call an ambulance it will always drive you to the nearest public hospital around. If you want to go to a private hospital, you will have to call them directly to arrange transportation.
Facilities are of very good quality in both private and public sector. Rooms are clean and comfortable in a public hospital but a private facility can offer a four-star-hotel-like room (Mount Elizabeth offers 158 meter square suites with bubble bath, butcher and personal nurse). Expatriates enjoy the quality of food there: Italian trattoria, French cheese, etc.
However the public sector wins on the medical equipment criteria, thanks to state-of-the-art technologies and well-equipped care units. It is recommended to go to a public hospital in Singapore when it comes to major surgery.
Moreover some public facilities are specialised as it is the case for the KKH, Women’s and children’s hospital, country’s leader in gynaecology, obstetrics and paediatrics in Singapore.
Both sectors employ highly qualified and experienced personnel. At the National University Hospital of Singapore, you will encounter many doctors, who are also professors and/or researchers at the university and known as experts in their field. The only difference is that doctors are independent and set their own prices in the private sector.
Cost is the main distinction between the private and the public sector in Singapore. The gap on your bill can be huge for the same surgery and the same quality of treatment. Public facilities charge you a basic price covering their costs whereas private hospitals and clinics set their own prices and margin, given that they are not subsidised they are thus free to choose their pricing framework. By the way, don’t be impressed by all the tests and additional services they may offer you if you don’t want to end up with a hefty bill.
Where should I go then ?
It depends on what you need (luxury room, quick appointment, etc.). For a simple outpatient consultation, a serious treatment or an intensive care unit stay, it is recommended to choose a public hospital, where you’ll be well taken care of while not breaking the bank for your bill.
If you want to know more:
Find out about healthcare in Singapore