As growing and aging populations across the world test the limits of their national healthcare systems, Singapore has become a poster child for operational functionality in the healthcare sector. And the world is taking note: A Bloomberg global study last year ranked the nation number one in healthcare efficiency. A World Health Organization study placed it sixth in healthcare outcomes, well above developed nations like the United States—despite the fact that Singapore spends only 3% of its GDP on healthcare, while the US spends closer to 18%.
Singaporeans are some of the healthiest people in the world, ranking among the lowest in infant mortality rates and highest in life expectancy. These facts have led many experts—including biologist and entrepreneur William Haseltime, author of Affordable Excellence: The Singapore Healthcare Story—to argue that countries like the US would do well to look to Singapore as an example of how best to provide citizens with superlative medical care at the lowest price. The question is: How do they pull it off?
Singapore’s healthcare program balances elements of a free market system with an influential government role. Universal coverage is ensured by a government mandate that sets aside a fixed proportion of citizens’ salaries towards healthcare expenses. Individuals can supplement the government’s coverage with market-priced private plans.
The country’s success can also be attributed to its focus on continually shoring up the resources of its excellent healthcare facilities and its ambition to become a thought leader and hub for biomedical research and education in Asia. The facilities—which include 21 Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited hospitals and medical centers—are generally recognized as the best in Southeast Asia. Private hospitals and Specialist Outpatient Clinics are a draw for regional medical travelers, who seek advanced medical care in Singapore.Educational institutions like the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy have all gotten high marks for the well-trained professionals they graduate.
Singapore’s strength in the healthcare sector has made it a gathering place and global hotspot for medical professionals who are at the cutting edge of their fields. The European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), the world’s leading oncology society, chose Singapore to host its first Asian congress because of the nation’s strategic location and the government’s dedicated support of medical research. The ESMO Asia Congress will host approximately 3,000 delegates, providing them with a unique platform for networking, sharing ideas, and multicultural exchange. It’s just one of the many conferences that have located to Singapore—from the Medical Fair Asia 2016 to the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) Annual Meeting 2016—thanks to its reputation as the stronghold of biomedical thinking in Asia.
“The other key to Singapore’s action on the innovation front in healthcare is its emphasis on collaborating with the private sector to put the sharpest minds and the most money behind solving the biggest problems.”
Singapore is home to over 30 medical technology companies, and businesses like Siemens Medical Instruments and Baxter International have set up R&D and manufacturing sites there. In addition, Singapore hospitals and institutions have joined forces with world-class American universities like John Hopkins, Duke University and Stanford to pursue breakthroughs in the medical field.
At the center of the country’s efforts in the medical sciences is Biopolis, an international research and development center and complex which includes a Zaha Hadid-designed building and supported research that led to game-changers like a SARS detection kit and new levels of understanding about infectious diseases and cancer. The debut of the Diagnostics Development Hub, which launched last year with $60 million in funding to assist start-ups working on diagnostic innovations, indicates that Singapore is only accelerating its pace on the healthcare front and setting the path for other countries around the world to follow.
Healthcare is just one industry in which Singapore has established itself as a crossroads of global ideas. Learn more about how Singapore allows visitors to experience all of Asia’s potential.
This feature originally appeared in Your Singapore.