Health & Insurance
Doctors in Singapore
According to official statistics, there were 1.833 doctors in Singapore per 1,000 inhabitants in 2009. In absolute figures, this number amounts to almost 10,000 physicians. Like other medical services in the city state, the quality of their care is generally considered good. It certainly attracts lots of medical travelers, especially from neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia. So, when it comes to finding doctors in Singapore, expatriates have plenty of choice. However, many of these 10,000 physicians do not offer any primary care: their number also includes specialists and researchers.
Finding Family Doctors in Singapore
If you are looking for doctors in Singapore that do provide primary care, you usually have to make two choices: first, you need to decide if you prefer Western medicine or Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). There is an extra database for TCM practitioners set up by Singapore’s Ministry of Health. Second, you should know whether you have access to public healthcare in Singapore. Most expatriates are temporary residents and therefore have private health insurance. While they can still see doctors in Singapore’s excellent public institutions, the waiting times in the private sector are often shorter.
In Singapore’s public healthcare sector, primary care is the responsibility of medical staff at the city’s 18 polyclinics. However, these account only for about 20% of all primary care consultations in the country. The remaining 80% are covered by nearly 2,000 doctors in Singapore: most of them are affiliated with private practices, clinics, and medical centers. This abundance may lead to some initial difficulties in finding a doctor that you feel personally comfortable with.
If it’s only a question of looking for a doctor’s office in your neighborhood, the Singapore Medical Council has an online search engine for family physicians. (The term is the local expression for GPs or family doctors in Singapore.) However, an address alone is frequently not enough. You need to know more about a doctor’s “bedside manner”, their style of interaction with their patients, if they have a tendency to over-prescribe or order unnecessary tests for private patients, etc.
Since lots of expatriates receive health insurance coverage via their employer, you should start by asking your HR department and your colleagues to recommend you their doctors in Singapore. Word-of-mouth in Singapore’s expat circles is another way of checking beforehand if a practitioner may suit your needs. If you would like to attend a polyclinic, though, it’s probably better to ask a few locals for recommendations.
Doctor’s Appointments in Singapore
When you go to see a family physician or medical specialist in Singapore, there are some things to take care of before your appointment: ask your insurance provider if they will reimburse you for treatment with your clinic of choice. Also, don’t forget to check with the clinic staff which payment methods they prefer. Doctors in Singapore often expect you to pay their fees immediately. Make sure to bring quite a bit of cash and not to max out your credit card. Last but not least, they’ll want to know your ID number. You should have your National Registration Identity Card, your Foreign Identification Number, or your passport number at hand.
Your appointment with a local physician should not differ much from a doctor’s visit back home. Expats have described practitioners in Singapore not only as well-qualified, but also as generally forthcoming with information on their health issues. There is one major difference, though: if you suffer from certain contagious diseases, doctor-patient confidentiality does not necessarily apply. In such cases, doctors in Singapore are required to pass on some information to national health authorities. (Please see our article on travel health tips for Singapore for further details.)
As far as the language barrier is concerned, you usually do not have to worry. Due to the abovementioned medical tourism, plenty of doctors in Singapore are used to treating foreign patients. The country’s official languages are Mandarin and English, but many physicians also speak other varieties of Chinese, as well as Malay or Tamil. If you prefer to communicate in another language, get in touch with your insurance provider. Insurance companies often have international patient centers. They may be able to give you information on doctors from your home country or send an interpreter to the clinic with you.
In medical emergencies, you should obviously not depend on house calls. In serious cases, dial 995 (toll-free) for an emergency ambulance. There is also the 1777 hotline for non-emergency services when you are nonetheless unable to go a walk-in clinic on your own. Private hospitals have their own A&E department and as 24/7 after-hours for urgent appointments. You can find such 24/7 clinics, for example, at Raffles Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital, or Mount Elizabeth.