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HomesingaporeMOH investigating case involving firm allegedly offering healthcare awards for money

MOH investigating case involving firm allegedly offering healthcare awards for money

SINGAPORE – Since 2020, Dr Desmond Wai has thrice been offered the opportunity to be awarded the title of Gastroenterologist of the Year.

The catch? He would have to fork out nearly $10,000 for the award. Each time he was asked, Dr Wai immediately declined.

The 54-year-old consultant gastroenterologist at Mount Elizabeth told The Straits Times that he was first approached by Global Health Asia Pacific (Ghapac) in 2020 with an offer of a package worth $9,800.

This package, according to a sales brochure seen by ST, included being featured on an entire single page in Ghapac’s magazine issues on “200 Best Medical Centres/Clinics in Asia” and “December/January Special Awards”, as well as promotion on its social media pages.

The brochure also states that the package came with “nomination into the Medical Centre/Clinic Awards”, although Dr Wai told ST he was told in a face-to-face conversation with a Ghapac representative that he would receive the award if he purchased the package.

Dr Wai said he was approached again in 2022 and 2023 with similar offers, which he rebuffed.

Other medical practitioners in Singapore who pay for awards such as these and display them may be going against the law.

The Ministry of Health (MOH), in response to queries by ST, said on Dec 18 that healthcare service providers that are licensed under the Healthcare Services Act are to comply with guidelines under the Healthcare Services () Regulations (HCSAR).

MOH said: “Under the HCSAR, only awards or accreditations that are awarded to or conferred on a licensed healthcare provider for compliance with technical standards may be displayed or published within their own premises, or on their websites and social media accounts.”

These include accreditations by Joint Commission International and ISO certifications, it added.  

MOH also reminded healthcare providers that they are “not allowed to offer money or any other form of compensation to guarantee receiving awards of an honour, as such awards may convey an unjustified impression of the quality of the healthcare provider’s services”.

The ministry said it is investigating the case involving Ghapac, adding that it will take enforcement action against anyone found to have breached the advertising guidelines.

A search online turned up at least one medical practice, which has six clinics across Singapore, that displays on its social media platforms two Ghapac awards it won in 2023.

Dr Wai, who has been a doctor for 29 years, told ST he was unsure how Ghapac assesses doctors in Singapore, referring specifically to gastroenterologists, doctors who specialise in gastrointestinal diseases. He said he knew of at least five other private gastroenterologists who were approached with the same offer he received, and all declined.

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Dr Wai added: “If this is a true award, then why should an awardee have to pay $10,000 to receive it?”

On its website, Ghapac said it positions itself to “facilitate the connecting of care, with a complete medical concierge service and platform that spans print, digital, mobile, and social media channels”, and bills itself as the “go-to resource for trusted information on international healthcare and medical travel”.

In its brochure for the 2023 awards ceremony, which was held in Bali in May, Ghapac lists a panel of 10 judges.

It also shares its “voting mechanism” and said award recipient candidates are identified by QR code-enabled voting, market research and a “jury of healthcare leaders”. The candidates are then further evaluated “through in-depth interviews”, after which they are ranked, said the brochure.

ST has contacted Ghapac for comment.

MOH in its statement said: “We remind all doctors that ethical standards in their practice and behaviour must be in accordance with the Singapore Medical Council’s (SMC) Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines, which also sets out the requirements for doctors on the appropriate use of advertisement.”

Errant doctors who mislead the public through misleading or sensational advertisements may be prosecuted by the SMC under the Medical Registration Act 1997.

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