It’s close to the end of the year and you know what that means – flu season. Yep, in Singapore, flu season is typically from December to February and from May to July. So if you’re planning to travel, then you might want to visit a doctor and get a flu vaccine now. Don’t worry, flu vaccination is pretty cheap in Singapore. However, what your wallet should be worried about is where you get the vaccine – from a polyclinic or from a private doctor? Which is going to save you more?
Well… the answer should be obvious, right? It doesn’t take a genius to know that a polyclinic is going to be significantly cheaper than visiting a private medical clinic.
Just how much cheaper is a polyclinic compared to a private clinic?
Before we get into the details, remember that these prices are for the most basic of consultations. I’m not referring to the many health subsidy programmes that the Singapore government offers under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS). Those subsidies can apply to patients of General Practitioners who are under the programme.
For medical consultations for Singapore Citizens, a polyclinic charges about $12 per visit. This amount is less for children under 18, and elderly above 55, at about $6.50 per visit. Permanent Residents and non-Residents will need to pay non-subsidised fees, regardless of age.
Some Polyclinic also have a Family Physician Clinic. This are for patients with certain chronic diseases like asthma or hypertension who would like to have a specific doctor assigned to them, to treat them regularly. This continuity of care comes with a higher price, though – between $23.50 to $30 for Citizens.
Still, those prices are generally much lower than what private clinics charge. The prices vary, of course, but it can go up to $55 or more just for consultation alone.
That’s a difference of almost $40 between the basic polyclinic consultation for adult Citizens and private clinics.
What else is cheaper at the polyclinic?
Needless to say, consultation fees aren’t the only things that are cheaper or subsidised at the polyclinics. Medication is of course cheaper at polyclinics, and they can also afford to be more generous in the amount that they dispense. At private clinics, because they’re still ultimately out to make a profit, they may prescribe you a more expensive medication that earns them a higher commission. It’s just business.
Polyclinics are also able to ensure that you get subsidised treatments at hospitals when they refer you. This could make a big difference compared to private clinics. For example, if a private clinic refers you to a hospital, the consultation fee is $90. If a polyclinic refers you, the consultation fee is only $25. For this reason, the good GPs will actually tell you to go to a polyclinic if you’re ultimately planning to see a specialist.
But don’t a polyclinic’s lower costs come with a lot of disadvantages?
If you’ve been to polyclinics in the 1990’s or even up until 2012, you’d think that you were on the set of The Walking Dead. It would be filled with people, and there would be sickly, lifeless-looking faces all around. Some would even shuffle slowly back and forth because there would be no place to sit down. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that’s where Singapore’s zombie apocalypse would begin.
But that’s not the case these days.
Waiting times at the polyclinics can now be as low as 1 to 2 minutes for registration, and 9 to 11 minutes for consultation. Gone are the days when you had to wait for hours before seeing a doctor. What’s more, polyclinics now have online appointment booking facilities, as well as ways for you to see, via a video feed, just how crowded or how empty a polyclinic is. So there’s no need to treat visiting the polyclinic like some complicated military operation that requires lots of strategy.
Polyclinics don’t just save you money, they save you time too. And when you’re in need of rest, the last thing you want to do is spend most of your time in a waiting room.
If that’s the case, who wants to go to a private clinic?
Ultimately, there are only 17 polyclinics across the island. Though they’re all based in densely populated residential areas, they may still be inconvenient to access if you’re in some kind of emergency. Imagine having to take public transport when you’re feeling unwell instead of just walking to a private clinic just across the road.
When it comes to certain medications, like flu vaccinations, private clinics do have the numerical advantage. Because they’re less popular than polyclinics, which see hundreds of patients a day, it would be easier to obtain the flu vaccine from a private clinic.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t make a difference just how much you may be able to save if you’re not able to get the medication you need.
When would you go to a polyclinic and when would you go to a private clinic? Share your thoughts with us.