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Health Care Reform: US vs Singapore

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on November 22, 2009

I attended a briefing by the DesignSingapore Council’s International Advisory Panel on Friday that discussed making healthcare an economic driver of this city-state in the future. Now think about this. As the politics of the US continues to grind on around providing all Americans with the basics of health care, the government of Singapore has put together a panel of some of the world’s top designers to reshape it’s already terrific medical system so that it attracts people from all over the world to its facilities—and makes high value medicine a 21st century industry.

The International Advisory Panel consists of Chris Bangle, former Chief of Design for BMW and now head of Chris Bangle Associates; Richard Seymour and Dick Powell co-founders of Semourpowell, the renown British design and innovation consultancy; Steve Hayden, Chief Creative Officer of Ogilvy New York and Vice Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide; Toyo Ito, founder of Toyo Ito & Ass. architects; and many other smart folks.

The IAP said that Singapore’s medical system had a great foundation of combining both Western medicine with Eastern traditional practices. It called the remix “harmonic.”

And the panel suggested taking the next step beyond implementing efficient process planning and providing excellent facilities to innovate better experiences for patients and doctors and nurses in the practice of medicine. Better experiences lead to better health outcomes, better efficiences and lower costs.

This is similar to the work being done at the Mayo Clinic, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, Kaiser Permanente and other medical centers in the US. But not in Washington at the national policy-making level, as it is in Singapore. Singapore is a generation ahead of the US in the development of a modern health care system. It has the plumbing down—process and facilities— and is now working on the next level of value—human experience, wellness and economic growth. And it is turning to the world’s top design thinkers to help guide it. Who is determining the shape of the American health care system today? Insurance companies and their lobbyists?

Reader Comments

Trip Allen

November 22, 2009 11:53 AM

You are spot on with this.
Healthcare is good and affordable- and for me, a healthy Baby Boomer it is fantastic. I don't have to pay the ridiculous rates I would pay for insurance in the US (my insurance here costs $500 USD a year and that covers all hospitalization, no doctor's visits)and get the coverage I need.

My only advice to the DesignSingapore Council’s International Advisory Panel is to look very closely at Doctor to patient interactions and interfaces. Doctors here tend to remove empathy- they treat the whole interaction as a business transaction. It is not personable. In other countries, doctors take the time to listen and empathize- here they don't. ( I believe this may be the result of Asian hierarchy...)

To me, as an outsider choosing to spend a good part of my life in Singapore, this seriously hurts the system- and the results.

Trip, Team Egyii, Singapore


November 22, 2009 2:52 PM

Very interesting!

Singapore is completely re-shaping its medical education system to follow the US approach.

The Ministry of Health Singapore has sent multiple teams to the US and has engaged the US Accreditation Council on Graduate Medical Education to revise the medical system.

I guess the grass is always greener on the other side :-)


November 23, 2009 4:14 AM

The Singapore health care system looks good to the outsider. However ask the average Singaporean and they will tell you how much they feared falling sick. There is a common saying amongst the lower income group that it is better to die than to fall sick. The Singapore health care system discriminate against the poor. For the rich it is marvelous. First class service and treatment all the way. For the poor, it is misery. The hospital will not admit you if you don't pay up front or prove that you can afford to pay your medical bill which can be exhorbitant. The PAP government will claim that they have support for the poor but applying for this is such a hassle let alone getting approval.The total amount given out is only a small % of the overall healthcare expenditure. The government share of medical expenditure is extraordinary low as they have shifted the burden onto the shoulders of the citizens. Sure the Singapore system avoided many of the excesses and abuses of the American health fiasco. Exploitation by the drug, insurance and healthcare companies are some of the more obvious ones.

Leong Chit See

December 7, 2009 7:48 AM

As a social worker in a public hospital (Singapore General Hospital), I disagree with the reader "Harry" has said.

Singapore's health care may not be the best in the world (I know, as I have been attached to exchange programs to many country's public health facilities via NGO activities), but it certainly rank high, in terms of taking care of her citizens' health well-being and affordibility to the man-on-the street.

No poor has ever been denied of the medical care that he/she needs (not in my knowledge during my 30 years career).

Please understand this - the percentage of public expenditure is not an absolute indication of the state of health care in any nation (If it is, US will have the best health care system in the world right now!).


January 29, 2010 2:59 PM

US healthcare reform seen from France :

and a lot of local and global news !

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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