Exploring Singapore’s Robust Medical Travel Industry

Singapore is home to some of the most beautiful destinations on the planet. With places such as the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Zoo, Gardens by the Bay, and Singapore Botanic Gardens attracting nearly 20 million people from across the world to the country in 2019, Singapore is a much-traveled destination for tourism. However, the country is expanding its stake in another form of tourism, medical tourism, pushing the frontiers of medicine and patient care to become a top destination for international patients across the world. 

Singapore ranks second next to Canada in the 2020-2021 Medical Tourism Index for global destinations, which evaluates countries across three metrics, including Destination Attractiveness, Safety, and Quality of Care. Singapore now attracts more than 500,000 international patients from around the world, across various specialties particularly cancer treatment, complex orthopedic procedures, and heart surgery. 

This attainment may not come as a surprise given the remarkable growth in Singapore’s healthcare industry in the last two decades. In 2000, Singapore’s healthcare system was ranked as the sixth best in the world and the best in Asia by the World Health Organization. However, in the last 20 years, the country has expanded its expertise, launching cutting-edge medical technology for complex surgeries and pushing the frontiers of medical research. 

Singapore’s National Cancer Center, for instance, has established itself as a regional center of excellence for cancer treatment, with advanced cancer treatment techniques and surgical interventions, as well as novel therapies, such as stem cell treatments in treating some of the most complex diseases. Singapore’s National University Hospital also continues to be a global leader in complex cardiac and orthopedic treatments, attracting thousands of patients to experience cutting-edge treatments from some of the best-trained doctors in the world. 

Some of these medical advances have also come as a result of strategic partnerships and collaborations with global leaders and other centers of excellence around the world. For instance, Singapore is Asia’s base for Duke University and Johns Hopkins University, both renowned centers for academic medicine. Through these collaborations, Singapore continuously expands its research capacity, improves educational opportunities and the quality of medical training, and boosts its standards of healthcare to meet global best practices. 

For instance, the Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Center has remained a leading cancer center in Singapore and the whole of Asia, with more than 1,400 new cancer patients visiting the center from the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. A 2006 report showed that nearly 85 percent of all patients from the United Arab Emirates who visited the country for medical care did so at the Johns Hopkins Singapore International Medical Center. 

Singapore also boasts other institutions that are beginning to establish themselves as global centers of excellence. Some of these include the National Skin Center, National Heart Center Singapore, and Mount Elizabeth Hospital, which is globally recognized as a leading multi-organ transplant center. 

Singapore has also been lauded for its commitment to patient safety, after its remarkable feat against the COVID-19 pandemic. With strategic resource allocation and disease surveillance, Singapore was one of the few countries that achieved a very low COVID-19 death rate with minimal disruption to economic activities. Singapore was ranked first in Bloomberg’s COVID-19 resilience ranking, with a robust public health response to control the spread of the infection. Singapore has continued to maintain a strong infection control protocol to limit the potential spread of infections. 

Safety, being one of the key metrics of the post-pandemic era of medical travel is pushing Singapore up the ladder of the medical tourism space. 

Over the years, Singapore has also remodeled its international patient program to boost the further influx of medical tourists, with global partnerships with health payers and insurers and international patient departments that recognize and cater to the needs of international patients of different cultural backgrounds. 

The outstanding patient experience is not the only driver of inbound medical travel to Singapore, more insurers and health payers are traveling to Singapore to receive first-rate healthcare there at a fraction of the costs in other advanced nations such as the United States. For instance, knee replacement surgery, which costs about $43,000 in the United States costs about $16,000 in Singapore, and heart bypass which costs more than $130,000 in the United States can be undergone in Singapore for $18,000, leading to more than 80% in cost savings. 

The cost savings, top-notch quality of care, and excellent patient experience are driving employers and insurers in the United States to set up direct contracting models and programs with several renowned health facilities in Singapore, which see hundreds of thousands of U.S. patients receive care in Singapore at affordable rates. 

Health payers such as Aetna, BlueCross, and BlueShield as well as Hannaford Bros., a global supermarket chain have networked with various hospitals and healthcare systems in Singapore for direct contracting for mostly complex orthopedic procedures, such as joint replacement surgeries, which yields enormous cost savings and excellent patient outcomes. 

Singapore continues to expand its network of hospitals and remodel its international patient programs to allow more medical tourists access to quality, affordable care within its shores. With more destinations competing for international patients around the world, Singapore is taking a unique position that focuses on driving quality healthcare through international best practices at reasonable costs to payers.

Singapore, one of the most dominant tourist destinations in Asia has established itself as a global leader in medicine, leveraging international partnerships and accreditations to rebrand its medical institutions to meet global patient care demands. With tremendous cost savings and excellent patient experience and patient safety being a priority, Singapore is definitely a destination to watch in medical tourism.

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