Surprises in Malaysian Health Care

My impressions about public health care in Malaysia were shaped at last three decades ago. Then, it was the choice you made if you could not afford to be treated elsewher

This was because the hospitals were run like government bureaus with the civil servant acting like the rest of us were servants. Many were incompetent, many rude and a lot of them embraced both qualities.

Someone’s doing something right at University Malaya Hospital. I like the fact that they have signs like this in the hospital asking its staff to say no to harassment. When you value your people they get energized and get a boost to their self-esteem



So when Unspun’s mum had to have a major operation in the University Malaya Hospital, because being a former civil servant entitles her for free treatment, Unspun was all girded up to do battle with the obtuse. Little did he know, however, that he was in for a pleasant surprise.

Each patient has to share the room with three others. No exception as they do not have classes. The downside of this arrangement is a lack of privacy. There is also no TV set for the convalescent to tune out. And the facilities are a bit worn out – the shared toilet in my mother’s ward had a broken shower head and a leaky sink.

But apart from these drawbacks the medical attention she got, the professionalism, courtesy and efficiency of the doctors, staff and nurses was second to none. Unspun has been in private hospitals before and can attest first hand that the team at UMH rocks, not only in the surgical ward but also in the other sections such as biting and administration that we had to deal with.

There were two more surprises in store as my mother got discharged from the hospital. The first was the speed of processing the discharge. The doctor in attendance told us he would complete the paperwork that morning and when he did he dropped by the bed to tell us that he had done so and we could check with the central desk for the rest of the documentation required.

The nurse at the central desk took less than an hour to process the rest of the papers, I took a slip from her and went down to the cashier. Here lay another surprise.

The cost of the operation, that involved a mastectomy, ward charges and other associated costs, came up to a whopping RM1,250. That’s about Rp4.25 million! And because my mother had been a teacher in a public school, she did not have to pay a cent or as they say in this country sen. A woman who had had a previous mastectomy at a private hospital told us that she had hers done for RM20,000.

This set our family and friends discussing the merits and demerits of seeking treatment in the public vs private sector and this was our unanimous opinion: Sure the private hospitals have prestige and comfort but the motivation of the private hospitals is to make money.

The doctors who work there are caught in the system. They have to feed the beast – make money or else. So they end up prescribing expensive treatments that the patient do not necessarily need. We all recalled first hand stories of how a hospital insisted on propping a friend who had been brain-dead, against the wishes of the family – and then charging them a whopping amount for healthcare after that.

A cousin of mine tells me of how a private hospital was harassing him to commit to collecting the bod of his father – when the father was imminently dying but not dead yet.

Another friend tells me of the elaborate and expensive procedures a doctor in a private hospital administered on him – to lance a boil. Just because the doctor knew that he was insured and the hospital can claim from the insurance company.

This contrasts with the doctors working in the public hospitals. Unmotivated by the need to make lots of money to cover their high salaries and bonuses, the doctors actually give the patient what they want. They would not rush into a treatment until they are sure.

Another plus point with public hospitals is that they apparently have the best medical equipment in the country because of government funding.

So when Unspun was walking his mother out of University Malaya Hospital he was smiling because there was something good to say about Malaysia. In a country where the politics sucks and racial segregation seems to be worsening, and professional standards dropping, someone is doing something right at University Malaya Hospital.






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