Hospital that goes the extra mile

Seeing a doctor for the first time is like going on a blind date -- there's no  guarantee that even a doctor with the best credentials would be right. Sime Darby Healthcare Group tells Ooi Tee Ching that patients are increasingly requesting for clever doctors who are just as compassionate.

A JAPANESE woman was chatting nervously in her mother tongue with her school-going son when she walked into the newly-built Sime Darby Medical Centre ParkCity. 

Her eyes lit up as a staff member at the hospital counter welcomed her cheerfully in Japanese. The worry lines on her face vanished in an instant as they engaged in an animated banter. Soon after, they were bowing politely to each other. 

As she made her way to the lift, she pointed to the "breast clinic" signage on the wall to her young son and commented that the hospital places high importance on its treatment for breast cancer patients.

When told of this incident, Sime Darby Healthcare Sdn Bhd managing director Raja Azlan Shah Raja Azwa smiled and noted that there are many expatriates living in Desa ParkCity and its neighbouring enclave, Mont Kiara. 

"We see it fit to have interpreters for our clients' convenience. Among other non-traditional services we offer at our International Patients Centre are facilitation of visa-on-arrival and its extension, currency exchange, shuttle services and short-stay accommodation," he said.

"Our flagship hospital at Subang Jaya started off as a community healthcare centre catering to the needs of the people staying there. Similarly, we're doing the same with our latest addition at ParkCity," he told Business Times in an interview here recently.

Also present were Sime Darby Healthcare chief executive officer Elaine Cheong and Sime Darby Medical Centre ParkCity hospital director Ch'ng Lin Ling.

Sime Darby Medical Centre ParkCity is located at the juncture of Bandar Manjalara Kepong and Desa ParkCity. Manned by about 40 doctors and 160 nurses, it is a 300-bed hospital offering the full suite of medical and rehabilitative services, and a 24-hour emergency unit.

At Sime Darby, Raja Azlan said hospital administrators and doctors hail the adoption of an integrated electronic medical records infrastructure as it supports a patient-centric approach to healthcare. 

The ease of typing a few keywords to retrieve a patient's record as opposed to ploughing through thousands of folders, filing and refiling them saves the doctor and the hospital millions of dollars, even after taking the cost of the electronic system into account. 

He then listed down intangible benefits such as a reduction in potential medical errors, instant communication of laboratory tests and improvements in the quality of data for clinical research.

While the electronic medical record system gives easy access to patients' medical information, Raja Azlan gave the assurance that the group adheres to strict confidentiality of patients' medical records as mandated by the laws of the country, provided under the Personal Data Protection Act.

To date Sime Darby Bhd is among the top 10 listed companies on Bursa Malaysia with a market capitalisation of some RM57 billion. Apart from healthcare, the conglomerate's core businesses are in plantations, property, motors, industrial equipment, and energy and utilities.

Although the healthcare division accounts for less than one per cent of the conglomerate's earnings, Raja Azlan is hopeful of doubling earnings contribution in the mid-term.

"Hopefully, as we seek to improve our margins by leveraging the expertise of our partner Ramsay, our earnings contribution could grow to two to three per cent of Sime Darby's earnings," he says.

Sime Darby and Australia's largest private hospital operator Ramsay Health Care Ltd are joining hands to expand their healthcare businesses in Southeast Asia.

Sime Darby is combining its entire healthcare assets with Ramsay's three hospitals in Indonesia, under a new joint venture company to be known as Ramsay Sime Darby Healthcare. Under this deal, Sime will receive RM390 million for transferring 25.7 per cent of the joint venture company to Ramsay's subsidiary to allow both parties to own equal stakes in the merged entity.

Raja Azlan noted that the group will leverage on Ramsay's clinical expertise and global procurement programme to manage costs and improve margins. 

Moving on to the importance of nurturing close working rapport between hospital administrators and doctors, Cheong upheld the importance of a consultative approach that usually leads to joint decisions. "We practise an inclusive culture that is built on trust and mutual respect."

She went on to explain that loyalty to Sime Darby Healthcare is driven by the patient's sense that the hospital and its physicians are united in ensuring their medical needs are met.

A doctor who goes the extra mile usually demonstrates empathy and is at ease with patients while involving them in health decisions. On the flip side, poor bedside manners reflect aloofness, curt replies, inadequate listening skills and a somewhat disregard for patients' worries and fears.

Cheong acknowledged that some doctors and nurses are not naturally engaging in their communication but this soft skill is necessary for the hospital to ensure satisfactory healthcare is given to patients in the most economical and responsible way.

"It is only reasonable for patients to be given options for the most up-to-date treatment and that their doctor knows everything about their case, and that their pain would be adequately controlled.

"The upfront time a doctor spends attentively with patients usually saves time later in the form of phone calls, questions and complaints," she said.

"For example, when a patient is dealing with a difficult diagnosis or chronic condition like cancer, a doctor or a nurse's ability to talk respectfully and perhaps more importantly, listen empathetically, is among the most valuable assets for healthcare providers like us," she said. 

Service delivery, building and sustaining patient and community loyalty, branding an unassailable market reputation - all of this boils down to good old-fashioned teamwork, she added.

In recruiting doctors at Sime Darby Medical Centre ParkCity, Ch'ng said, "We make sure they have the tools they need - the supporting services, the equipment and the personnel they need to effectively do their job."

Indeed, she is well aware of what motivates physicians to bring their time, effort and skills to the operations and efficient use of healthcare facilities.

She acknowledged that doctors are concerned about the prospects of losing autonomy, rising malpractice costs, increased paperwork, competition, regulatory requirements and tighter reimbursement.

"The ultimate achievement is creating a working environment where doctors would place their loyalty to a hospital where they would send their own families for care without hesitation," Ch'ng added.