Health post: Singaporean Incentives

I was interested to come to Singapore because it is apparently the 2nd-healthiest country in the world (after Iceland and just before Sweden; The Lancet) and was rated by the World Economic Forum as the world’s most technology-ready country. It’s also been rated by the World Bank as one of the easiest countries in the world for doing business. There are expats here from all over the world, and over 200,000 people come here every year for medical tourism. Singapore is known as an innovation hub, and rightly so, it seems; as far as I can tell, everything here seems to be lively and modernizing.

My project centers around what factors influence positive reactions to medical technology, but that depends on the general attitudes towards health and technology in a country. Even a topic as generic as “technology innovation” is relevant as a jumping-off point for why a country might be particularly positive towards medtech. For that reason, I wanted to do a little bit of research into why business thrives here, and how that might relate to attitudes towards new technologies in all sectors, including health.

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The ArtScience museum, observation wheel, and Marina Bay Sands (left to right), viewed from the Central Business District.

A friend recently shared an article with me that details the Singaporean government’s plan for maintaining a successful economy in the today’s uncertain future. The report lists seven key sectors, one of which is healthcare (Tech in Asia; see sources list below). According to the article, the government hopes to improve “Singapore’s startup ecosystem” by paving the way for more venture capital firms; improving access to technology for new businesses; and becoming more of a tech-enhanced city as part of a “Smart Nation” goal.

I read that Singapore has this plan to become a “Smart Nation,” similar to various “smart city” plans that aim to use improved technology infrastructure to tackle present and future challenges in all categories such as transit, WiFi connectivity, housing, growing and aging populations, etc. One of the “Smart Nation” goals is increased telemedicine, in fact, in response to Singapore’s increasing population. A few of Singapore’s public hospitals already track patients at home using remote patient monitoring techniques, using telemedicine to care for these people while freeing up space in the hospitals for additional patients.

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A 1992 sculpture called “Reaching”. The plaque reads: “‘Reaching’ symbolizes our progress and infinite possibilities of growth. Just as ‘Reaching’ builds up from a small base and reaches out beyond itself, so has Singapore, a small country, progressed beyond its shores.”

Apparently, the factors that make Singapore so good for business have much to do with technology, such as new online systems for litigation proceedings and property transfer, along with the ability to deal with most business taxes online (Forbes). It is also possible  to register a new company online (and complete tax registration in the same step) via an electronic system, all in one day. Singapore has no minimum wage, which is good for business but bad for income inequality (The Middle Ground).

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Many photos of Singapore, as I’ve mentioned, show a complete and glittering city of the future, but I think it’s cool to see the amount of development and construction happening as well (the construction here is for a new subway line).

There are developments specific to the medtech sector as well that give Singapore an edge over other countries. Of the ten states that constitute the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, Singapore spends the highest percentage of its GDP on health: 4.9% (WHO; ASEAN Briefing). The government has measures in place to spur medtech development such as the “Partnerships for Capability Transformation” (PACT) act to encourage partnerships between manufacturers and suppliers – this is especially important for medical products, which need to adhere to strict quality control measures and regulations. There is also a mandatory government health insurance program called MediSHIELD Life, which has the result of incentivizing the healthcare sector because it guarantees that medical treatment will always be paid for, either by the patients or the government, and so the medical industry should provide a steady source of income.

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Another helpful factor is that there are dedicated medical technology parks such as the Biopolis research and development center, which houses various biomedical companies in Singapore (EDB). This sort of tech park can provide medical technology companies with resources such as access to hospital facilities for testing and the opportunity to collaborate with other companies and institutions. Also, the government has committed about $50 million (US dollars) to an accelerator program that is supposed to invest in new medical technology start-ups (EDB).

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On a giant screen outside a small shopping center in Chinatown, this man discusses the importance of investing in industries that focus on women, while the screen itself wishes passers-by “good health and abundant wealth” in the new year.

Despite its small size, Singapore is clearly already a global hub for medical technology; in fact, over thirty global medical technology companies now have their southeast Asian regional offices and/or research and development centers in Singapore (EDB, ASEAN Briefing). These global companies will most likely set examples for or inspire local companies in the same field; in Sweden, I noticed that various local companies seemed inspired and encouraged by the history of medtech innovations that have occurred in the country over the years. Singapore is already considered one of the healthiest countries in the world with an average life expectancy of 83 years, though the rapidly growing and ageing population also puts pressure on the medtech industry (ASEAN Briefing). From what I can tell, Singapore’s high-income economy and highly involved government seem to be the main drivers for the booming medical technology sector in this city-state, though whether Singapore’s “good for business” rating has much to do with its high health rating is difficult to say.

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Colorful buildings on a rainy day.

Sources:

-Summary of government report on future economy at https://www.techinasia.com/singapore-future-economy-committee-report

-The Lancet study of healthiest countries at https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/09/there-s-a-new-ranking-of-the-healthiest-countries-how-is-yours-doing/

-Medical Tourism at https://www.pacificprime.sg/medical-tourism

-“Singapore: An Emerging Hub for Medical Devices” at http://www.aseanbriefing.com/news/2016/04/20/singapore-an.html

-Medical Technology in Singapore from the EDB (Economic Development Board) at https://www.edb.gov.sg/content/edb/en/industries/industries/medtech.html

-Singapore Smart Nation at https://www.spring.gov.sg/Inspiring-Success/Enterprise-Stories/Pages/Setting-the-standard-worldwide-intelligent-city-Smart-Nation.aspx

-“Singapore Remains The Best Place In The World To Do Business” at http://www.forbes.com/sites/philipsalter/2015/10/28/singapore-ease-of-doing-business/#245297b06bf3

-“What is the Gini coefficient, and how bad is our income inequality?” at http://themiddleground.sg/2015/08/21/gini-coefficient-bad-income-inequality/

-Singapore, World Health Organization at http://www.who.int/countries/sgp/en/

-“Singapore’s Medical Devices Industry – ASEAN’s New Development Hub?” at http://www.emerging-strategy.com/article/singapores-medical-devices-industry-aseans-new-development-hub/

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