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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Private, Public or Alternative Healthcare

Private Healthcare
When I was very young and had a small salary, I thought that polyclinic healthcare was inefficient and ineffective. I preferred to pay $35 to a private General Practitioner, even though I earned little then. Mostly too, my employer had a stable of GPs that I could visit, and I wouldn't have to pay. I was very happy with private care for a while.

Then, after a particularly harrowing experience giving birth at a "premier" private hospital, I began to question the quality of private versus public healthcare. This was especially after I was told by my gynaecologist that if anything went wrong with my birth experience, I would be sent to Kandang Kerbau Hospital simply because it was only there, that they had certain equipment. Kandang Kerbau Hospital is public healthcare.

Shortly after that, I was made to wait an interminable 2.5 hours at a one of the clinics belonging to a very reputable and large private healthcare chain. The bill came up to $65. I really began to question the quality of private healthcare. That was 10 years ago when $65 could buy a lot more things than now.

Public Healthcare
Since then, I've always gone to the polyclinics, where I sometimes pay as little as $8/=. 10 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised that the wait was as short as 45 minutes. Compared to the 2.5 hours I spent at the private chain of clinics, this was heaven. The polyclinic had also undergone a facelift. There were potted plants and landscaped gardens. The doctors and nurses were friendly. To be sure, I don't often have the occasion to visit the polyclinic. With all the herbs in my garden, most small illnesses can be easily chased away.

Lately though, I've spent more time at the polyclinic than I would like to. Strange perimenopausal symptoms and a very stubborn upper respiratory infection has seen me at the polyclinic almost once a month this year. Running a fever and feeling very sick, I was dismayed to find one Monday morning that I would have to wait about 3.5 hours for my turn. I guess times have changed. The influx of immigrants has burdened the resources at my polyclinic. Perhaps the population is also older and falls sick more?

Feeling really sick that Monday, I went to the private GP I knew from my younger days. He charged me all of $75. It gave me a shock. I used to pay him only $35 per visit. I guess times have changed. I've not visited the doctors for so long that I'm out of touch with consultation fees.

I noticed too that the clinic was none too clean. The doctor's files lay helter skelter on shelves in his consultation room. A thick layer of dust covered the Barbie dolls he had placed on a high shelf. My daughter was 1 year old when this clinic opened and the dolls were placed there. I think I will have to change a GP. I am sure my friends are more progressive GPs than he, except that their clinics are ever so far away!!

Thanks to the huge difference in pricing (and the cleanliness of his clinic), I went right back to my polyclinic. I registered myself and then went off to do some groceries. Then I came back to see the doctor. He sent me to an x-ray and a blood test. Then I went off to get some work done. When I came back I saw the doctor again. With x-ray, blood test, medication and consultation all in, the bill was less than $35. I was also pleased that I could get all these tests done in the same place.

I was given a specialist appointment at Khoo Teck Puat hospital on the day when The Haze hit 300+. It's a spanking new hospital with manicured garden spaces and a huge pharmacy staffed by friendly young people.

That fellow there behind Counter 12 was very patient and kind. He explained to me how to use the nasal spray very gently. I suppose I begin to look a little on the elderly side and he was being very sweet indeed. His name is Isa. The wait to collect my medicine was 45 minutes. It was a long wait indeed. I went to have lunch first and got back just as my number was being hailed.

The genteel lady at the reception counter spoke in clipped educated tones. She was kind but firm in explaining that I could not request to see Dr Grace again, no matter how much I liked Dr Grace (and I did like Dr Grace very much). I would have to see whichever specialist doctor was on duty. Pity! Dr Grace was funny, caring, informative and kind. I didn't have to wait long to see the doctor, because again, I registered and came back when they called me on my phone.

Beautiful gardens

Spick and span surroundings

Alternative Healthcare
Unfortunately, I was still coughing. Conventional medicine could do nothing for me it seemed. So I resorted to Traditional Chinese Medicine. It all happened in this small half shop chock a block full of anything you might imagine.

The doctor took my pulse and asked a few questions. I was asked to cough. It was a phlegmy cough. She disappeared behind her wares and appeared with a mug of black liquid. I drank that and then swallowed a few pills. Then I was asked to cough again. Tada! No more phlegm!

That was weird.

I didn't quite believe what had happened. I went all introspective trying to feel if there was anymore phlegm at all in my throat. There was still a little bit but I had to agree that the phlegm production was drastically reduced. I was told to stay away from "cooling" foodstuff... and "heaty" foodstuff. I could only eat "neutral" foodstuff.

Why am I surprised though? Years ago, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner stuck an acupuncture needle into my hand and the 2 lumps in my throat went down immediately. The problem is... I don't understand TCM, and find it hard to trust what is mysterious to me. I am too steeped in western logic to be convinced by the heaty and cooling and meridians blah blah blah of TCM.

A strange powder and some cute round pills. The powder is what got rid of the phlegm.

A bottle of something to go with the pills and the funny powder.

A not very confidence-inspiring set-up, especially when compared with the manicured gardens at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. I wouldn't have stepped in there if not upon the recommendation of a friend who got well from her stubborn phlegmy cough thanks to this doctor's care. 

For what it's worth, I can feel a marked improvement in my respiratory condition 1.5 days after the first dose of medication. If this continues, I'll be all well by tomorrow night! I paid $39/=.


Melodies said...

Just two month ago, I was shocked to receive a GP's bill of $100+ for my 10 yo daughter's consultation plus some medicines! It's just a typical sickness of cough, flu and fever. For the same sickness, the charge have gone up significantly since the last visit about 1+ yr ago in the same private GP clinic near my place.

When you analyze the cost of living in Singapore including housing, food, education, transportation and more, all hell broke loose. To my dismay, the escalation of healthcare costs in Singapore over the years should not be a surprise.

Singapore has become a very costly place to live especially for an average income and retires...hmm no wonder many Singaporean rushed for Iskandar property nowadays!

All these years, Gov clamps down the income/corporate tax in order to attract companies to Singapore and also encourages entrepreneurship. While I appreciate this rationale, I can't reconcile the phenomenon of high industry/commercial rental costs in Singapore which have been inching up quite substantially and drive some of the companies out of Singapore with no obvious action taken from Gov to mitigate this. So far, all the cooling measures are meant to curb the speculation of residential property. As we all know that GLC is the biggest landlords in Singapore for industry/commercial properties, shouldn't gov step in to curb these sectors so that the business can remain competitive?

Hmm...I can't help to think that Singapore may be at risk of becoming a victim of its own success, as cost of living soars.........

Wen-ai said...

I've always believed in TCM, but the physician must be good and not some quack! So recommendation from trusted friends only!

Open Kitchen Concept said...

I have always been skeptical about TCM and continue to remain so.. chinese herbs i do believe in but they must be in shapes or forms i understand.. not some fancy-named pills and fancy-named liquids.. :) Too many quacks actually in TCM... otherwise I actually think they are probably more "correct" than western medicine in that they aim to fix the basic issues instead of symptoms.

The daughter was recently down with stomach flu and we incurred a $300 bill at the PD. Wow. $300. If my company didn't pay for it I'd have a big problem with the bill. Thankfully they pay for it.