SINGAPORE: When Zhuang Xiushun fell down at home two days before Chinese New Year in Medan, Indonesia, she was rushed by her family to Singapore's National University Hospital for spine surgery.
Coming from a well-to-do family, Mrs Zhuang, a 77-year-old Indonesian Chinese, used to seek treatment only at the private hospitals in Singapore. This time round, her family sought an alternative as the financial crisis had brought hard times to the region.
As Mrs Zhuang's children had heard that the public hospitals here were not lagging the private ones in terms of the level of medical standards and service, the family decided to send her to a public hospital.
The operation at NUH and the near-one-month stay in an A class ward cost about $40,000, according to Mrs Zhuang's daughter, Mdm Xiao, 50.
The cost, said Mdm Xiao, was very reasonable. "While foreigners who seek treatment at public hospitals are charged more than Singaporeans, my mother's medical bill still works out to about a third less than if we had gone to a private hospital," she added.
Cases like Mrs Zhuang's are getting more common. Figures suggest that more foreigners are now giving up private hospitals for their public counterparts. For example, 78,000 of the patients that Tan Tock Seng Hospital and NUH received last year were non-resident foreigners - an increase of 8 per cent from 2007. And revenue from these patients increased between 10 to 15 per cent.
In contrast, Parkway Holdings, the largest private healthcare organisation in Singapore, had a 10 per cent drop in foreign patients last year when compared with 2007.
With more foreign patients thronging public hospitals, questions have been raised as to whether local patients would get neglected, but figures suggest this is unlikely at the moment.
At public healthcare clusters National Healthcare Group and SingHealth, medical tourists currently make up just 8 and 5 per cent of the patients.
In terms of market share, public hospitals own about 20 per cent of the medical tourist market, according to a report by securities analysis organisation Nomura.
The report pointed out that locals stand to benefit if public hospitals acquire a stable source of income from medical tourism, as they would be able to use this money to buy more advanced medical equipment. Locals will then have access to such equipment.