All photos from Raffles Medical Group
The following part 2 of a feature on Raffles Medical Executive Chairman, Dr Loo Choon Yong, was published in the Nov 2013 edition of SMA News. It is republished here with permission from the Singapore Medical Association.
The first part was: RAFFLES MEDICAL: Founder Dr Loo Choon Yong On His Early Years
Maintaining the competitive edge
Dr Toh Han Chong - THC: Private practice can potentially become too commoditised sometimes. What advice do you have for young doctors who are trying to balance business smarts with maintaining highest medical professionalism in practice?
Dr Loo Choon Yong - LCY: Our motivation to go into private practice was this – the group of us could leverage on each other’s strengths and look after a group of patients very well, and we know they will pay us on a cost-plus basis as we’re not subsidised. We have a little aphorism of our own – “look after the patients and the business will look after itself ”. I preach this all the time because we should do what is the best for our patients.
Of course, we don’t mind making a profit but that’s not our primary objective. Our primary objective is to look after the patients, and the consequence of our good work is profit. How can you try to churn and generate profits by giving treatments that are not necessary?
That’s why all of us are subjected to audits 30 days after the patients are discharged, to make sure unnecessary procedures were not carried out. It’s easier to practice professionally and ethically in a group practice as we could help each other stay above the water through continuous peer review. No one is exempt from audits – even Prof Walter Tan (Medical Director of Raffles Hospital) and my own cases get audited. If not, where’s the moral authority?
THC: As you have a second degree in law, do you have any comments about the recent medico-legal cases?
LCY: I think that the lawyers are making a living from taking on these medico-legal cases. I once addressed the Singapore Academy of Law about this: I told them that they should not go in the way of the Western world, where lawyers sue doctors for the slightest matter. If that happens, doctors would start practising defensive Medicine and if they start doing that, the whole community will suffer. It is true that doctors should not be negligent, but Medicine is complicated. Sometimes, bad things do happen unpredictably without negligence and despite great care.
The Court of Appeal is perfectly right in reinforcing the concept of ethical charging. In Raffles, we have this saying that we must care for patients compassionately, treat them professionally, and then charge them fairly. That’s what keeps us going. We have medical governance and internal guidelines that Raffles’ doctors are expected to follow.
The durian seller charges his customers according to their financial standing, but can a doctor do that? An erudite colleague once pointed out, “Why is it that when we’re negligent, our damages are determined by patients’ economic losses, yet we can’t charge according to their means?” Some doctors believe that we should charge patients according to their net worth, but this is unconscionable because then no one will want to treat those who are poor. At the end of the day, medical care is not a business because you shouldn’t charge what the market can bear.
THC: There has been some sense that Singaporeans are not very good entrepreneurs. What are your thoughts about this?
LCY: That is not true! I have been involved in promoting entrepreneurship for some years through the Action Committee for Entrepreneurship movement initiated by Mr Raymond Lim, and know that there are a lot of entrepreneurs in Singapore. In the early days, financing was a problem for start-up companies. The situation is different now – the banks and venture funds are fighting to finance start-up companies, and university students are already thinking about innovative projects while they’re still in school.
We have to understand that entrepreneurship is a bell curve – some people are entrepreneurial by nature, while others are very risk adverse. A study showed that the rate of formation of new enterprises was highest in Nigeria, but that is entrepreneurship out of necessity, similar to how I helped my mother at her canteen stall. The driving force for this kind of entrepreneurship is poverty. The other type of entrepreneurship, one that could propel Singapore forward, is the entrepreneurship of ideas – where people feel like they want to branch out and do something on their own, whether it is in the technological field or not. They want to pursue their own dreams. They want to make their mark in society, and not because they are hungry or poor.
THC: How would your closest friends describe you?
LCY: They would say that I do not remain in the status quo, and cannot sit still. (laughs) We have finite time in this world so make the best out of it and try to help as many people as we can, as it is a greater blessing to help than to receive.
THC: What keeps you excited every morning?
LCY: I am intrigued by ideas and vision, and then making them come to fruition. Thinking back, having the vision for a hospital like Raffles Hospital and successfully building it to benefit people brings me great satisfaction as well.
THC: What is your secret to success, materially or otherwise?
LCY: For Raffles to be successful, we believe we need to have four disciplines – strategic discipline, professional discipline, financial discipline and execution discipline. Execution discipline means that your project has to be on time, on course and on budget; in short, your plan must be carried through.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that any organisation that has these four disciplines will go far.
THC: Could you share with us your favourite quotes or books?
LCY: There are too many to name. (laughs) If I had to name some of my favourite books, there are two that have helped Raffles a lot – Good to Great by James Collins, and Built to Last by Collins and Jerry Porras.
THC: Who are the role models and inspirations in your life?
LCY: Having grown up in Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s ideas and dedication to Singapore have had a great influence on me. My Christian upbringing has also shaped my life. Although I’m not the model Christian, I have a good model to follow. What I’ve learnt from them is that it’s a privilege to serve the people.