Thomson Medical Group seeks to create an iconic brand that people associate as a preferred, life-long family health partner.

Singapore-based private healthcare group, Thomson Medical Group (TMG), best known for its women and childcare services, is adopting broad strategies to become the leading flagbearer for healthcare in Asia.

Since its founding nearly 40 years ago by Dr Cheng Wai Chen, TMG, true to its motto of ‘Celebrating Life’ seeks to build on its heritage to widen and deepen its engagement with its clientele into a life-long relationship.

Statistically, the average person spends cumulatively about five years in clinics and hospitals, with most of the time spent in their younger and older periods of life. With increasing life expectancy rates, in which the average person is now expected to live beyond 80 years, healthcare providers like TMG want to go beyond intermittently treating patients to being life-long healthcare partners. This means keeping people healthy for longer periods through lifestyle changes, more frequent health screenings and preventive medicine.

Preventive Medicine

At the core of TMG’s move upstream into preventive medicine is the provision of comprehensive lifestyle and wellness services throughout one’s entire lifespan, according to Roy Quek Hong Sheng, TMG’s Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer.

Roy, who was in Singapore’s elite administrative service for 21 years, previously served as Deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Health and in various capacities in the ministries of defence, education, home affairs, youth sports community development as well as the Prime Minister’s Office.

Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim, who acquired Thomson Medical Centre for S$400 million in 2010, convinced Roy to come on board in 2015 to spearhead its business expansion.

In its effort to transition from ad hoc consultations and treatments, TMG is building a platform-based ‘health system’ from the outset at birth for the entire family. The system is programmed to continuously advise individuals based on their physiological make-up, genetic dispositions and health benchmarks, as well as detect signs of concern well before a serious health incident arises. For example, marathons and triathlons are known for their benefits and endorphin highs – but they could also be fatal in some cases. Knowing one’s physiological limits can help prevent this as well as implement better recovery strategies.

As Roy explains, “This quality of care is planned for an entire family when we journey as their trusted health partner. We also ensure that people need not worry about their next appointment, which doctor to see or which clinic to go to. Even when travelling abroad, they would be able to access the same quality pan-Asia healthcare, wherever we have a Thomson Medical clinic or hospital. That gives peace of mind. We want a relationship – a partnership for life.”

Leading TMG’s expansion into an all-encompassing health service is Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer, Roy Quek.

Wearable Tech

In an effort to improve the efficiency and safety of its internal processes for both patients and healthcare staff, TMG is planning to implement greater use of information technology. This includes wearable technology that monitors heart rate, temperature and blood pressure from a central point.

This tech initiative was meant to tie in with TMG’s plan for digitization of its patient medical health records by mid-2019. The latter was however delayed for further tests and inspections following the recent, unprecedented cyber-attack on Singapore’s SingHealth database where some 1.5 million public health records were breached.

Meanwhile, TMG is building an eco-system and virtuous community where there is sharing of best practices, learning and training across different countries and cultures. “We are trying to equalize qualifications across different countries and cities so that patients feel no difference in the quality of healthcare. If we are able to train more doctors, we can also create a pipeline for ourselves. That is something we are very keen to do. It is a game changer,” Roy said.

Growth Plans

For its expansion plans, TMG will embark on strategic partnerships to augment its organic growth and acquisitions.

The group recently announced a joint-venture with IVI-RMA Global, the largest medical group in the world specializing in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Headquartered in Singapore, the partnership aims to combine technology, knowledge and expertise to create Asia’s top ART platform and address the growing demand for assisted reproduction across Asia.

Acutely aware of Singapore’s smaller population and hence limited healthcare market, TMG is focusing on the broader Southeast Asia base of 650 million residents, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia.

TMG currently has two ongoing healthcare projects in Malaysia, one in Klang Valley and the other in Johor.

The brownfield project in Klang Valley, re-branded as Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara, will be completed in 2020 with 600 beds. Piling works are commencing soon to build the Thomson Iskandar Medical Hub in Johor, which will comprise a 500-bed hospital and an adjoining tower that can house up to 400 medical/office suites. It is located a mere five minutes from the Causeway linking to Singapore.

Thomson Medical Group seeks to go beyond intermittently treating patients to being life-long healthcare partners.

Portable Healthcare Subsidies

In Malaysia, there are 200 private hospitals that account for only 30% of beds and 150 public hospitals of larger capacity. Comparatively, Singapore public hospitals have even more beds than the private sector, holding a share of 80% of the total beds. Singapore’s government spends S$10 billion on healthcare a year, the third largest expenditure item in the national budget, after defence and education.

However, Roy feels that Singapore should allow the private sector to take the lead instead, and channel cost savings into patient subsidies. He advocates ‘portable subsidies’ where the patient is free to choose between public or private hospital as he regards the differentiation between the two to be an artificial one.

“Private or public, it is still a hospital. The focus should be to ensure quality and put licensing requirements in place. If queues are too long, patients can go somewhere else. Subsidies should follow. Over time, it makes for a stronger healthcare system,” says Roy.

For TMG, regardless of which country it operates in, it ensures that every country is a local business and where the priority is to serve the local population. “Localization means, local doctors, nurses, partners and working with regulators,” Roy explains.

Investor Concerns

With growing demand for healthcare services, the sector is attracting many private equity investors in Asia. However, this is cause for concern, says Roy.

“It seems everyone wants to be involved in healthcare including private equity funds. But many of these funds have a three-year timeframe. The good thing is that these financial investors tighten up processes and costs. But my concern is their contribution to healthcare and mental care. It is vital that they understand patient safety and quality issues. Healthcare comes with heavy responsibility because people’s well-being and lives are at stake.”

To TMG, healthcare is not a portfolio business as it tries to remain true to its founder’s ethos of making people feel at home and being comfortable – much like a family clinic experience. It is also an attempt by its billionaire owner, Peter Lim, to leave his legacy, as Roy explains.

“We are nearly 40 years old and we want to create an iconic brand that people associate with being their life-long health partner of choice.”

The Thomson Iskandar Medical Hub in Johor will comprise a 500-bed hospital and up to 400 medical and office suites.

This article was first printed in MillionaireAsia Issue 49 - Sep 18

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