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Analysis: Running a medical clinic in Singapore is tough

First you must find a clinic space from which to practice. The good news is that space is available at most hospitals. The bad news is that a 1,200 square-foot clinic space at Mount Elizabeth Hospital currently retails for around S$10 million, or US$7.34 million to secure a space less than half the size of a tennis court. By the time you add fittings, equipment and staff, your relationship with your bank manager will likely be under severe strain. 

But it is when the clinic doors finally open for business that the real challenge begins.

Had you set up a clothes store, or a baker, or almost any other type of business you would begin with a marketing drive. This might include advertising in newspapers, announcing an opening sale, handing out flyers in the street and doing anything else you can think of to promote your business and bring customers through your door.

Doctors in Singapore, however, are subject to regulations controlling how they may market their services. For example, they are not permitted to imply that the results that their clinic can achieve are different from the results that may achieved at any other clinic offering the same treatment. 

These regulations are enforced. Earlier this year, Dr Goh Seng Heng was found guilty of breaching the Singapore Medical Council’s Ethical Code and fined S$20,000 for advertising relating to a group of laser surgery clinics.

So how does a clinic attract patients? Well, they can join the clinic networks managed by health insurance third party administrators like MHC. This will help, but you will still be just one clinic in a data base with hundreds of others. Why would a patient choose you?

Well, something that is of increasing importance to patients in Singapore is risk management, particularly around patient safety and the security of medical records. Just last week SingHealth, a large public healthcare groups here, was the subject of one of the worst cyber attacks in Singapore’s history. Confidential records belonging to 1.5 million patients’ were illegally accessed and copied. The data taken included personal details like names, identity card numbers and addresses, and demographic information like a patient's gender, race and date of birth.

Could it get any worse? Yes, it could. One of the patients whose information was compromised was Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong.

For a private sector medical clinic, a news report of a patient safety issue or a data breach is fatal. Most patients today will google a clinic before making an appointment, and a compromising news report of any kind will often be enough to prompt them to keep searching.

The other side of this coin presents an opportunity for clinics to stand out from the crowd. If a medical clinic can demonstrate that it is following best practice in terms of patient safety and risk management then it will always have an edge over other clinics. 

So how do you know if your clinic is following best practice in these areas?

1. Ask your insurance broker to help you identify the major causes of patient safety issues arising from clinical services (medication errors, as one example).

2. Review your procedures for guarding against such issues.

3. Check with the provider of your clinic management system on the cyber security protocols in place.

4. Document these procedures and protocols in a Patient Safety Charter, and incorporate this in the information you provide regarding your treatments.

For more information, contact Michael Griffiths, regional director, healthcare at Howden - specialist insurance brokers at mike@sg.howdengroup.com.

Posted on: 16/08/2018 UTC+08:00


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