Experiences With Public and Private Healthcare

Some readers have asked me to write about my experiences in both the public and private hospitals in Singapore. Few people have written about it, so I think its good to share more.

Before I go further, I would like to say that I greatly respect our public healthcare workers. It is not an easy job at all, and they do an admirable job in very difficult circumstances. My experiences are my own, and are not representative of every patient out there.

Hospital Stays

In total, I was hospitalised for about a month after my surgery. About 12 days was in SGH, and the rest of the time was at Farrer Park Hospital.

I had stays in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), High Dependency Unit (HDU), Class A, and a private hospital ward. I experienced the grand tour, so to speak.

The ICU

My first few days in SGH were horrendous. I had quite a major operation, where I was literally split into two (not completely of course), as the tumour was deep in my body. After an 8 hour operation, I was warded in the ICU for close observation. I woke up in incredible pain, and a tube jammed down my throat. It was very uncomfortable, try opening your jaw and holding it there the whole day. I didn’t even need it because I was breathing through my nose fine.

I was semi-unconscious for most of the time. After a while, I could look around and see what’s going on. The ICU is brightly lit at all hours, in a big area where a lot of staff walk around. It was difficult to rest in that environment due to the light and noise. I don’t remember seeing any doctors during that time, and could not remove the tube until they had given the ok to the nurses. Since no doctors were visiting me, at least while I was awake, it took a long time.

The HDU

After a couple of days, I was moved to the HDU. This is a 6 person-ward, where there is close monitoring. Even though I had insurance for Class A wards, there is no such thing for this ward and every class of patient was in the same room. It was a bit better than the ICU because they turned off the lights at night. But it was even nosier because the HDU could take visitors.

My view in the HDU

The person next to me played religious chants on his radio constantly, even late at night. Nurses couldn’t do anything. I didn’t press further because I overheard the doctors telling him they found something serious and they wanted to do more tests. He didn’t want to continue because he was afraid of treatment and costs.

I stayed in the HDU for longer than needed because all the A class wards were full. It was difficult to sleep and rest with all the noise, and I felt exhausted all the time.

A couple of nasty nurses scolded me when I didn’t understand what was going on. I was too scared to say anything, since I was totally dependent on them. It felt like there wasn’t any point giving feedback to the doctors, as they spent on average about 1 min talking to me in the evenings. Not an exaggeration. They always had to rush off to complete their rounds and see the other dozens of patients.

Finally, after about a week, they moved me into my own room. This was a great relief as I could finally have some privacy and peace.

However, A class wards still share the nurses and doctors with those in Class B and C. Calling nurses can take hours. I needed quite a bit of attention because I had a fist-sized cavity in my body, which kept filling up with liquids and soaked my bandages. Leaving it wet would cause infections and take longer for the wound to heal. But I was frequently left there for hours drenched in my own body fluids.

I should also mention that there are a lot of young medical students training to be doctors in the public hospitals. They came by frequently to examine me for learning purposes. While it was mildly annoying, I didn’t want to deprive them of an education and let them do their thing. It wasn’t just when I was awake. There was an audience watching me being cut up during surgery. I know it shouldn’t bother me, but it felt like I was more of a specimen instead of a patient.

After 12 days, the doctors declared me fit to be discharged. I felt I was rushed out because they needed the bed. I went along because I was tired of being in the hospital and wanted to see my son, who was born about a couple of weeks ago.

Private Hospital Ward

On the way home, my wounds promptly opened up. I checked into Farrer Park hospital because I couldn’t handle all the blood and fluid that kept coming out of me. I still felt pretty weak and couldn’t move much. There was a baby in the house too. Farrer park was the nearest hospital to my home, and my family could walk over to visit me.

The difference is like night and day. Nurses attended to me and changed my dressings in 5 mins. The service and attitude was much better. Doctors stayed and answered any questions I had. I was comfortable and could rest.

After checking out, I still had home nursing come to my house every other day to wash and dress my wounds. I shouldn’t have done this because home nursing was not covered under my health insurance. It would have been better to stay in the hospital as it would be paid for, with more services such as having my meals taken care of.

Final Thoughts

It didn’t make sense to enter the public hospital system and save my insurance company money. I could have gone to the most expensive hospital and surgeon, and I would pay the same price. I went to the public hospital as it seemed like the most experienced and knowledgeable team was there. But I didn’t expect the hospital stay to be so bad. I would have experienced a faster and better recovery in a private hospital.

In my view, both the doctors and nurses in the public hospitals were heavily overworked. I don’t have any doubt about their skills or efforts, and I felt they wanted to care more for each patient. But that is difficult to do when there are so many patients to be seen each day.

From a cost perspective, my view is that private hospitals offers far more value than public hospitals. Generally speaking, private hospital bills will be at least 2-4 times more than in the public healthcare system. But I don’t feel it because there is a cap on the amount I pay.

It sort of bothers me that people won’t pay a bit more for better healthcare for themselves, but don’t hesitate to spend on holidays and drinks. The choice does get tougher as you grow older, as the premiums for private hospital care skyrockets.

It’s not just the increased value. You can book private doctors and treatments in just a few days. Public healthcare will take weeks or months. I wrote here about the difference in speed and convenience.

Hope that this article sheds more light on patient experiences, and to help others making a decision on their health insurance.

7 comments

  1. Hi FI35,

    Thanks for sharing. Your experience reiterate my belief that apart from the the room type, there really is not much difference between a Government A ward and a Class B1 in terms of quality of care. My AIA agent is sharing that Government A ward has a longer post hospitalization coverage but I think that the B1 coverage is more balance in terms of premiums, government subsidy and hospitalization cost.

    1. Glad I could help. I haven’t experienced B1 myself, but I suspect you are right regarding the quality. Thank you for reading

  2. Hmmm, interesting… I think apart from Premiums, Ward and Quality Care Experience… Below are some key points to consider too…

    1. Annual Claimable Limits
    2. Claimable Period on Pre-hospitalisation specialist check up
    3. Claimable Period on Post hospitalisation outpatient follow up
    4. Overseas Non-Emergency medical or surgical treatment claimable
    5. Daily cash back provided when downgrade of ward (important if sole breadwinner coma)
    6. 100% covered or just 95% covered
    7. How much co-payment to pay? Is there a cap? Any special terms and conditions for the cap?
    8. Will premium increased because of claims?
    9. Is the benefits and premium most attractive as compared to what’s offered in the market?
    10. Am I overpaying based on market rate?
    11. How can my personal hospitalisation coverage complement my company plans? Do they overlap?
    If yes, which one will pay first?
    12. Is pre-authorisation compulsory before the surgery? What happen to the eligible claims if i do not seek pre-authorisation?

    Of course some possible key benefits that is important but not critical are

    1. Outpatient GP consultation claimable
    2. Outpatient Specialist consultation claimable

      1. Hospitalisation planning is those type of planning where you would like to ensure u get one suitable one that can meet all the considerations of concern (now and future) and try not to change after being incepted… Its the last bastion of defence during a medical crisis…

        So although it may seem like a easy planning to do… It has many implications in future if the wrong one is chosen…

        Self medication may sometime be the most expensive treatment…

  3. wow, relaly insightful article… if I am under a Hospitalization Restructured Plan, i guess it’s risky to swap to a private hospital plan since they may say pre-existing illness right?

    1. Yes.. if you discovered something after you have a plan, the new insurer will likely exclude it. Generally, I think the insurers here are about the same, there isn’t much of a need to switch.

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