In the first of a six-part,
fortnightly series sponsored by enterprise development
agency Spring Singapore, Francis Chan and Dhruv Velloor look at how
local firms can
become leaders in the fast-growing health-care sector
HOW do you bring the family doctor into your office?
Delivering good old-fashioned medicine to the workplace was a
key goal of general practitioner (GP) Barry Thng when he started
Alliance Healthcare, which arranges health coverage for individuals and
Alliance had humble beginnings. In 1994, Dr
Thng, now 44, and five fellow practising physicians – all classmates
and peers – set up a family clinic in Commonwealth Drive. Initially
called Serene Family Clinic, it was later renamed My Family Clinic.
About a decade later, the six founders took the leap into corporate health care.
Dr Thng said the need to cut down on rising costs of group
health-care cover motivated them to move in 2005 to become a group
health vendor for employees in various companies.
He said: "I
found that the concept of family medicine is equally applicable to
managing health care. As a family physician, I feel like I am treating
a family. It is similar for corporate health."
He added: "Many of these employees were also our private
patients, and so we were motivated to develop an effective business
solution for them."
Despite the similarities in the business, entering a new market with new competitors was not all sunshine.
Government agency Spring Singapore helped, but most of $2
million required to finance a health utilisation system – which
measures the value of employee health claims against average regional
data – came from company finances.
The system is meant to help employers guard against both exploitation of claims as well as overcharging by doctors.
Dr Thng told The Straits Times that the greatest obstacle for
the company involved changing perceptions of businesses that needed
corporate health cover – but which were reluctant to take on the cost
of Alliance's services.
"Most companies wanted to see clear
monetary gains from the services. Also, most saw expenditure on
health-care services as a cost, not an investment. It is this mindset
that is difficult to eradicate."
Alliance's first client was insurance giant AXA. Dr Thng
believes Alliance's health expenditure monitoring system gave it a
competitive edge, which convinced AXA that Alliance's services were
suitable for the insurer's clients.
Sixteen years on, Alliance has come a long way, with seven more
My Family Clinics operating in the HDB heartland. The company employs a
little over 100 staff at its premises in Jurong East.
A move to a larger workplace is in the offing, as the current premises are too small to accommodate all its staff.
Aside from its own clinics, Alliance can draw upon an islandwide
health network spanning 300 GP clinics and 100 specialist clinics,
which collectively get about 500,000 visits a year.
estimates that Alliance, which competes with other managed health
administrators such as MHC Asia, is the No. 3 independent medical
administrator here with about 600 companies and 60,000 employees under
Turnover for the company was $8.2 million last year. Alliance
has also started a wholesale pharmacy to assist its network of clinics.
Industry attitudes, which "do not change overnight", are also
evolving and more companies view health-care cover as an important
investment, Dr Thng said.
Despite its successes, Alliance said it has not changed in outlook.
The company has retained its ethos of providing employees with all the personalised care of a family GP, Dr Thng said.
recently developed an IT platform where patients can view their health
trends over time. They can access this service at home, and avert
potential problems by following the health tips it offers.
Doctors can also view patient medical records, and are alerted whenever certain checks are due or have been missed.
This, combined with the health expenditure monitor, forms an
integrated Health Management System – the backbone of Alliance's
operations in managed health.
Dr Thng and his team at Alliance still have big goals. Plans
are under way to expand its medical network into the rest of South-east
Asia, including the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.
is working with health insurance companies such as Great Eastern to
promote its health network at the workplace, and it aims to be listed
on the stock market within five years.
For more information on how to grow your
companies, visit http://www.spring.gov.sg or call