According to the latest Ministry of Health statistics in 2015, there are over 12,400 medical practitioners in Singapore; this creates a doctor-patient ratio of 1:440 for the Singaporean population. Like other medical services in the city-state, the quality of the care provided by doctors in Singapore 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 12,400 physicians do not offer any primary care: their number also includes specialists, midwives, and researchers.
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 the public healthcare insurance system in Singapore. Most expatriates are temporary residents and therefore have to go with a private health insurance provider. While they can still choose to 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 private doctors in Singapore: most of them are affiliated with one of the approximately 1,500 medical clinics. This abundance may make the decision of where to go a difficult one.
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 for you to make a wise choice of doctor. 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.
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. Finally, don’t forget your ID and your medical records, which you will likely have to take each time you visit, even if you have already registered at the doctor’s surgery.
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, English, Malay, and Tamil, but many physicians may also speak other languages such as other varieties of Chinese. If you prefer to communicate in another language, best get in touch with your insurance provider or your embassy. 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 for an emergency ambulance. There is also the 1777 hotline for non-emergency services when you are, nonetheless, unable to go to a walk-in clinic on your own. Private hospitals have their own A&E department and a 24/7 after-hours service for urgent appointments. You can find such 24/7 clinics, for example, at Raffles Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital, or Mount Elizabeth.
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