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Monday, April 12, 2010

SGH took 68 days to complete a medical report

The Ministry of Health's 2009 Patient Satisfaction Survey says "nearly 8 out of 10 patients (76%) expressed overall satisfaction at public healthcare institutions.''

"This is an improvement of 2 percentage points as compared to 2008, thus reversing a dip experienced that year," it elaborates. "2009 also saw the highest percentage of patients (78%) who said they would recommend the services of public healthcare institutions to others. This reflects a high level of confidence in our public healthcare."

While I have no doubt that the survey is accurate and I would readily vouch for the high standard of our health care services, a recent experience has caused an unnecessary dent in my level of confidence.

My younger brother, who is currently undergoing treatment at the National Cancer Centre in SGH, applied for a medical report on January 29 this year at the Records Office. The report is to support his insurance claim and it cost him $86.67.

I was with my brother when he made the application. We were told that the Office would send the report directly to the insurance company when it was completed.

At that time I had absolutely no reason to think that this simple application would cause me so much time and needless angst.

About a month after the application, I asked my brother whether the report had been sent. He said he had checked with the Office during one of his treatments and was told that the form was still lying on the doctor's table.

As my brother's hearing was impaired because of the chemotherapy, I decided to check on his behalf. I spoke to two women at the Office over two days --- March 10 and 11 --- to find out what happened and to convey our frustration over the delay.

I said my brother and his family needed money as he had been unemployed for a long time.


The Office was not able to offer any explanation for the delay. I guess none of the lower-level staff would dare question the doctor.

The bottom line: Anna, one of the women I spoke to and who sounded a little sympathetic, told me that she would attach a note of urgency to the application form.

I thought I had impressed upon her my brother's predicament and about how we felt, and that her initiative would help to resolve the matter soon.

How terribly wrong I was to have assumed that!!!!

Close to the end of March when I checked with my brother again whether the report had finally been sent, his answer was again "No".

By then I knew I was dealing with a bunch of people who either did not care or were so overwhelmed with paperwork that they just could not cope.

Whatever the reason for the delay, I had reached a stage when I was not interested. The reason is simple: We have been told, time and time again, that Singapore has a system that works, but this was not happening in my brother's case!!!

Here I was pleading with the Office to hurry up --- and they did not care a hoot.

On March 29, I spoke to Joy of the Records Office and demanded that something be done. When she realised that she could no longer give me the "standard replies", she said she would speak to the doctor's secretary and call me back.

She did as promised, and told me that the secretary said the report would definitely be ready by the end of the week.

Easter holiday over, I checked with Joy again on April 5. After giving her my brother's identification, she promptly went to her computer and, lo and behold, said those dreaded words AGAIN: "No, it is not ready!"

I reminded her what she had told me the week before. Then she said: "OK, I will check with the doctor's secretary and call you back."

She did, and this time, she chirped: "I got good news for you. The report is ready but it has to be signed by the head of department before it is sent to our Office for despatch."

She said it would take a day or two for that to be done, adding that she would call to inform me when the report was finally sent to the insurance company.

When she did not call, I checked with the Office to find out what had happened. Anna, her colleague, told me: "Oh, she was on leave yesterday."

When Joy finally called me, she said the report was sent to Great Eastern Life Assurance on April 7 --- 68 days after the application was lodged.

I decided to blog this as I felt that this was an aberration in our system that had to be brought to the notice of the authorities and action taken to correct it.

Despite all the trouble that we had gone through, I must declare that I still believe that, overall, our health care services are right up there.

However, it has to a BOO-QUET to the doctor in charge.

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