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How to go about seeing a Doctor in Singapore – a guide for Expats

What to do in an Emergency
What to expect at the Pharmacy/Chemist
Seeing a GP/Family Physician
Seeing a Specialist

I decided to write this piece to help the uninitiated navigate their way through the Singapore medical system.

On the whole, it is extremely convenient to see a doctor in Singapore. Most Family Physicians or GPs operate walk in clinics. Most Specialists require an appointment but they would also accept walk in patients if their clinics are not too busy.

So let’s get started.

You have just moved into your brand new apartment in Singapore, happily unpacking your stuff when Oh My God all of a sudden your child falls and hurts his arm.

What to do in an Emergency

The number to call for an ambulance in Singapore is 995. The ambulance will bring you to the closest Public Hospital. You don’t have a choice.

If you wish to get to a particular hospital (most of the time because your insurance policy says you must), please contact one of the private ambulance operators instead. But be prepared for a much tardier response.

List of Private Ambulance Operators:

AME 6247 7080
BLESSWELL 6273 0147
ECON 6382 8888
ER 6222 2995
GREEN CRESCENT 6788 8911
HENG GREF 6788 8911
CIVIC AMBULANCE 6333 3000

If the situation does not require an ambulance, you can make your own way down to either:
1. GP Clinics
2. Hospital Emergency Department

All GP clinics in Singapore are walk in clinics. Just walk into the clinic, register then wait your turn to see the doctor. Of course, in busy clinics, waiting times can be very long.

Many GP clinics open till late. Some even open 24 hours. It’s really useful to scout around your neighborhood to see where the nearest GP clinic is and note their opening hours. Or you can use a locator service like www.streetdirectory.com.sg or www.doctorpage.sg and search for medical clinics.

There are many hospital scattered all about Singapore and all of them have 24 hours emergency departments. Just walk up to the reception counter, register and wait your turn. You will first see the triage nurse then again wait your turn to see the doctor. Be warned that waiting times can be frustratingly long. Arriving in an ambulance automatically classifies the case as ‘Critical’ and bypasses all these steps and heads straight into the critical care room.

Public Hospitals
Singapore General Hospital – Central
Tan Tock Seng Hospital – Central
Khoo Teck Phuat Hospital – North
National University Hospital – West
Changi General Hospital – East

KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital – Central
As the name suggests, this hospital deals with ObGyn and Pediatric cases only.

Private Hospitals
Mount Elizabeth Hospital – Central
Gleneagles Hospital – Central
Raffles Hospital – Central

Once you arrive at the hospital the very professional doctors and nurses will take over and things are pretty much out of your hands. Till its time to settle the (frequently hefty) bill of course.

So now your child’s arm is all fixed and he is happily running and swimming and doing all the things kids do. Then as expected he develops a cough and fever. Soon you and the rest of the family are coughing too.

You decide to head down to the pharmacy/chemist to see what you can find.

What to expect at the Pharmacy/Chemist

Since it is very convenient and relatively inexpensive to see a GP in Singapore, self medicating at a Pharmacy is really not widely practiced. Furthermore, most medicines can only be obtained with a Doctor’s prescription.

Very few medicines are over-the-counter. Most medicines require you to at least speak to a Pharmacist first. The Pharmacist will get an idea of what your symptoms are and make some recommendations on medication.

Regular cough and cold medications can be bought from a Pharmacy. Pain killers, fever medicines, simple creams, simple eye drops and medicines for diarrhea and vomiting can all be obtained from the Pharmacist without a prescription. Antibiotics are a big no-no.

So you and the entire family have been sucking down cough syrups for a week and you still can’t shift that cough. You decide that you need to see a Doctor

Seeing a GP/Family Physician

As you already know, most if not all GP Clinics in Singapore operate on a walk-in first-come-first-serve basis. Seeing a Doctor is as simple as walking in, registering and waiting your turn.

When it comes your turn you’ll see the Doctor and he will do his Doctoring thing.

You then wait to collect your medicines and make payment. That’s right. You do not need to go to a separate pharmacy or chemist for your pills. All GP clinics in Singapore stock medicines. It’s a one-stop shop!

Blood and urine tests are also done at the clinic. The Doctor or his assistant will draw the blood and it is sent off to a lab for analysis. The clinic will then get back to you with the results.

Some clinics even have simple x-ray services. However, most clinics will arrange for you to have your x-rays done at a separate radiology centre.

So you’ve taken your pills, done your blood test and taken your x-rays and guess what? You are still coughing! You see the GP again and he decides its time to send you to see a specialist.

Seeing a Specialist

You actually do NOT need a GP referral to see a Specialist in Singapore. You can literally just pick up the phone and make an appointment to see any specialist you fancy.

Getting your GP to write a referral letter has some advantages. Namely:
1. You require a GP referral letter if you wish to claim the Specialist’s fees back from your insurer.
2. The GP will recommend a Specialist best suited for your condition.
3. The GP can communicate effectively the tests and treatments you have undergone and this will help the Specialist manage your condition

Most Specialists will only see patients with an appointment. Although they will happily accept walk in patients if their clinic is not crazy busy.

It is usually not difficult to get an appointment with a Specialist. Waiting times are generally less than a week. Sometimes, it is even possible to get in to see the Doctor on the same day!

So you’ve seen the specialist, got diagnosed, got treated and the whole family is back to perfect health. You decide to celebrate by packing everyone off to the Botanical Gardens for a relaxing picnic while listening to a free concert. Heaven knows you need a free concert after the bomb you just spent on medical fees. It’s a good thing you have insurance. Everyone’s kicking back and having a good time when Oh My God all of a sudden your child falls and hurts his foot. Back to part 1.

Hopefully this gives you a good overview of what to expect when you need medical help in Singapore. Please leave comments on what else you would like to see on this website or what other information you find useful. Sending us an email is also good.

advise


Need more advice?

Andrology and Infection Centre at Novena Medical Center Men’s Clinic.

Call us at 6397 2095 now to book your treatment.

Come down to Our Clinics for a discussion with Our Doctors, or call our clinics for more information:

1.) Robertson Walk  (+65 6238 7810)

2.) Bencoolen Street (+65 6884 4119)

3.) Novena Medical Centre (+65 6397 2095)

4.) Scotts Medical Centre (+65 6694 2348)

5.) Somerset – Orchard Building (+65 6262 0762)

6.) Katong – East Coast Road (+65 6635 2551)

Where to find us – here

Click Here for Contact Details, Address and Opening Times.

Selected clinics are open on Saturday and Sunday.

Doctor’s Schedule here

Email: doctor@drtanandpartners.com

Feel free to email your queries, feedback and suggestions on what other topics you want to see in the comments section below.

About Dr. Tan
Dr. Tan graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2001. His residency was in the two largest public hospitals in Singapore; Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Singapore General Hospital.

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57 Comments

  1. Hi I have been having recurrring yeast infection for the past few months. My GP have sent sample for testing and show candidas presence. Been taking Sporanox to cure it however, it keep returning on a monthly basis. I have yet to visit a specialist as it is expensive. any advise?

  2. Steven Lam

    Dear Dr Tan,

    I am a foreigner and I did a body check in Hong Kong. The doctor wrote a referral letter for cardiology.

    I wished to consult further in Singapore. Should I just call SGH Heart Centre directly for appointment or should I go to polyclinic first?

    Kind Regards,
    Steven

    • If you wish to see a Cardiologist in a government hospital, it is best to get a referral letter from Polyclinic if you are a Singaporean. If you are not a Singaporean, you can get a referral letter from any GP clinic in Singapore before booking an appointment with Heart Centre.

  3. Hi,my child has severe allergy(anaphylaxis) to milk products. Is this a condition that is managed well in Singapore – are doctors aware of emergency procedueres in relation to anaphylaxis? Also will the ambulance arrive withing 15-30 min in case my child does have a severe reaction requiring hospitalisation? We are currently based in Australia and my child’s allergy is the only factor limiting our potential move to Singapore.

    Many thanks

    Lakshmi

    • drtan

      When it comes to medical services Singapore is first world. All our hospitals have emergency departments with well trained doctors. Anaphylaxis is a common emergency. Of course no one can guarantee you ambulance response times. I will quote from our Civil Defence Force’s Service Pledge that reads “We will dispatch an ambulance from the nearest fire station and strive to arrive at the incident location within 11 mins to render medical aid, 80% of the time.”

  4. I have uti…but when I ask in pharmacy about the medicine they tell me that they need a prescribed from doctor..can I meducince withbout consulting a doctor here cause im a foriegnermy okace are far for any clinic..

  5. anonymous

    Hi Dr. Tan, I am an expat in my mid 40s and have been previously prescribed medicine for erectile dysfunction in the country that I am a citizen of. I would like to know if your clinic is able to prescribe medicine for erectile dysfunction, and if so, am I also able to purchase, say viagra, from your clinic, given that I have a prescription?

    As I’m sure it is obvious from what I’ve written, I feel embarrassed about going to a pharmacy, such as Guardian/Watson’s etc, to purchase ED medicine.

    • drtan

      Techincally, Singapore doctors and pharmcies do not accept prescriptions written by doctors not licensed in Singapore. Personally, I fully respect my foreign colleagues and see no reason to doubt their prescription. So please drop by my clinic at Novena Medical Center and I will gladly honor your prescription. I am currently on leave and will be back on Thursday.

      • anonymous

        Dr. Tan, thank you for your response. I would like to clarify that if I’m able to obtain a prescription from your clinic, am I able to also purchase viagra from your clinic, or is it necessary for me to go to a pharmacy, such as Walton’s, Guardian, etc.?

        Thank you in advance for any information that you may provide.

  6. Hi Dr. Tan,

    I am a 18 year old teen and suspect that I’ve Social Anxiety Disorder, Auditory Processing Disorder and a few others. I don’t know how to tell my parents about them but I hope to get help soon as I’ve been feeling worser recently. Will this involve my parents if I were to get a referral?

    • I’m sorry to hear that and I am happy you have recognized the problem in yourself and are actively seeking help. You are welcome to see us and we can refer you to an appropriate specialist. There is no need to involve your parents. At 18, you are legally allowed to make your own decisions on your personal medical care.

  7. I don’t know if you can help. I’m visiting my sister and am feeling poorly, somethings definitely not right. I’m a little scared being away from home. Will it cost me much to see a GP?

    • You are welcome to visit any of our clinics. Please click HERE for location info. Our consultation rate starts from S$35.

  8. Charlene

    Hello. I am on holidays in Singapore at the moment. I am about 5 weeks 5 days pregnant. I have booked in for a scan detect a heartbeat when I return back to Australia (I will be 8 weeks by then) but as you could imagine I am abit anxious on my holiday having to wait to so long and would love to get a scan here to tie me over till I return home. I am only here for 5 days then going to Bali. How do tourists go abouts obtaining a referral for an ultrasound and what is the approximate price? I actually have family in Singapore that are GPs however due to how early we are I haven’t really made an announcement yet. Thank you

  9. Kelvin Won

    Hello Dr Tan,

    Your website is truly informative. Thank you for the information that most of us (the general public) won’t know. Unfortunately, my dad has colon cancer and we have only came to know about this recently. I am PR here and my dad is a Malaysian holding a long term visit pass. My mom, though is a Singaporean. We had done a colonoscopy for him in Malaysia. It was confirmed to be colon cancer, though he needs a ct scan to know which stage he is at. We’re unsure how we can proceed as we wants him to have his surgery done in Singapore. Could we go through polyclinic for referrals or should we go to a GP or a specialist clinic like yours? Though health matters the most, but if we can save a few cents for rainy days, we could really hope so.

    Thank you very much for your time in reading this.

    • I am sorry to know that your father has to go through this. You can visit a GP clinic to get a referral for a CT scan, and subsequently a referral to a specialist (surgeon, oncologist).
      You are welcomed to visit us. We can arrange this for you.
      drtanandpartners.com/where-to-find-us/

  10. Danielle

    Hi, I have just moved to Singapore as an exchange student and am experiencing what I believe is a bladder infection, I get them quite frequently. Is there a gp near by Nanyang Technological University or even on campus? I don’t yet have my student pass but have registered at the university

    Thanks.

    • Most universities in Singapore will have a campus doctor where students can get free healthcare. I know for sure NUS has one. SMU issues a card to it’s students where they can get free healthcare at several GP clinics. You had best check with student affairs in NTU. I am sure they have something for you. When you find out please post it here so that we can all benefit from the info. Thanks!

  11. Kathleen Gallagher

    I am thinking of taking a job in Singapore. I have depression and anxiety and they are controlled with medication (seeing a psychiatrist) and also therapy.
    The anti-anxiety medication I take is a benzodiazepiem, and I know many doctors outside of the United States are hesitant about these kinds of medications, if they are even available at all.
    While it would be a goal to taper this medication over time, I cannot see that happening as I make an overseas move. But, I would not want to get to Singapore only to find out that these medications are not available to people, even through a psychiatrist.
    Can you offer any advice on this subject. I would hate to lose this job opportunity because of this medication.

    • Hi Kathleen. Indeed the prescription of Benzodiazipines are quite strictly controlled in Singapore. However, they are easily available through a doctor. Most GPs will not be comfortable prescribing such medicines to you on a chronic basis. You would have to see a psychatrist for that. Once you are under the care of a psychiatrist you will be able to get your medicines very easily. This should not be a concern for you at all and should definitely not be a factor preventing you from coming to Singapore.

  12. Thanks Dr. Tan. I’ve had very frustrating experiences with neighborhood GPs not doing the due diligence to make the right calls. Is it within my rights to demand for a referral for a specialist? I haven’t tried to directly ask for it as I didn’t want to seem disrespectful. But I have a skin infection that is progressing despite the antibiotics given. I’m worried that the GP might feel undermined when he makes a referral and so refers to specialists only when the case has escalated.

    • drtan

      I am sorry to hear that. Let your GP know you would like to see a specialist. There are many reasons why some GPs refrain from referring to a specialist. Sometimes it is to try to help the patient save cost. When you tell your GP you would like to see a specialist, he would most likely comply. If he stubbornly refuses, I think it is time you sought out a different GP.

  13. Hi Dr Tan,
    Im looking for a doctor (or specialist doctor) to do a medical check up for my dad, including possibly uric acid/ gout problems. Does your clinic do this or do you have any reference?

    Regards
    Syl

  14. Thanks for the inforlmation … It was of great help!

  15. Hi sir. A ethical question. If there is emergency nearby a clinic, are the GP oblige to respond should the public or any stranger came knocking ?

    • You must be referring to the recent case in the papers. Legally, the doctor does not owe the patient a duty of care. So the doctor is no ‘obligated’ as such to help the person. Ethically it is very grey. Personally I have responded to emergencies outside my clinic before. That however does not mean I have any kind of moral authority to comment on any other person’s actions or impose my views on other people. I think this is a debate that will go on and on.

  16. Hi
    Can you tell me which documents I should take when I go to register / visit g.p.
    Thanks

    • None really. The clinic will just get you to fill a registration form. To ease the process, you might just want to bring along your passport. This is not essential.

  17. shirin clara

    Dr Tan

    I found your article extremely straightforward and informative, especially for expatriates and visitors.

    I am a PR here and my dad is a foreigner living in the UK. His local doctor told him there was nothing wrong with his hand shaking and that it is unlikely early symptoms of Parkinson’s.

    As he is here to seek a second opinion in Singapore with me, which specialist clinic should I make an appointment with for a mildly-shaking left arm (i.e. when he holds a spoon), or should I see a GP first, or where are the places to bring him for a health-screening as he is aged 65 and may have other conditions?

    Many thanks – perhaps advice on expatriat health-screening venues would also be very helpful information for others on your website too.

    Best,
    Shirin

    • drtan

      Thank you for the compliments. I am glad you found out site useful. Generally speaking you should see a GP first who would then recommend the appropriate specialist. However, if you already know who or which specialist you want to see (probably Neurology in your case) you can actually make an appointment with the specialist directly without going through the GP. The only problem comes if you are making an insurance claim. All insurance companies will want to see a referral letter from a GP before considering a claim for a specialist visit. Most GPs can do basic health screening. However, if he needs more complex tests, it would be best for him to visit a dedicated health screening centre. All the major hospitals have a health screening centre. Google them. Please excuse me while I take this chance to do a little advertising. We are actually in the process of opening a health screening centre in Bangkok. We hope to have it up by end 2013. We would be able to offer Singapore standard health screenings at much more competitive prices compared to Singapore.

      • shirin clara

        Dear Dr Tan,

        Many thanks for your prompt reply and I hope this helps others too in similar situations. Will check out Bangkok Health Screening too at competitive rates – sounds good.

        Best,
        Shirin

  18. Ivay Tan

    Hi Dr Tan,

    My lab in the US requires that we withdraw 11 vials of blood from me and 3 frim my husband. Thereafter, the lab here needs to spin 2 vials of blood and separate the serum from the red cells. They also need to pipette off the top fraction of some spun vials. Some are to be sent as ambient tubes and others in frozen form with dry ice. I’ve got the vials and boxes from the lab via fedex and will also send the vials off to the states personally via fedex. Please let me know of you and your lab could help with the above.

    I hope to get it done on a Monday as we need to fedex it off before 12 noon. We would be grateful if you could help. Thanks.

    • drtan

      We have communicated via email and arrangements were made. Hopefully everything works out for you.

  19. Ivay Tan

    Dr Tan,

    I’ll send you more details when I get back home. Do you mind if I email you privately? Thank you.

  20. Ivay Tan

    Dear Dr Tan,

    I need to withdraw blood and get it spun down and processed by a lab before sending it to the lab in the US. The tests that I am doing cannot be done in Singapore. Can GPs help me with this?

    • drtan

      Getting blood spun down is not a problem. I have done that for my patients before. However I do not know what you mean by ‘processed’.

      • Ivay Tan

        Hi Dr Tan

        It is basically to seperate the serum from the red blood cells. Would you be willing to help us? It needs to be fedexed to my reproductive immunologist in new york. If so, I’ll make an appointment asap.

  21. Hi Dr. TAN,

    I would like to know is there a time frame for GP to help a patient book an appointment with a specialist. I was asking the clinic to help make an appointment with a specialist the other time and when I called them again to check the appointment date, I was told that they have not manage to get the specialist as the line is engage and they are busy.

    • Usually we can get through to the specialist clinic within the same day. However, I do empathize with them that sometimes clinics can be so busy that it is just impossible to get through. Mondays are particularly bad for some reason. You can actually get the contact number from your GP and call the specialist yourself. You might find this more convenient as you can decide on your appointment date and time to suit your schedule.

  22. Hi Dr Tan

    I googled and found your article which I feel is informative for my company’s employees especially the expat group, who may not have an idea of our local medical system.
    Do you have any issue if I distribute this URL to my company’s staff?

  23. Dear Dr. Tan,,
    Is it equally easy for travellers to consult with a GP, or is the process more complicated?
    DW

    • The same process applies. Just walk into any GP clinic, get registered and wait to see the doctor. If it is something more urgent, walk into any hospital’s Emergency Department and register to see the doctor.

  24. Anonymous1

    Hello Dr Tan,
    I suspect that I have social anxiety and would like to get help. So, I would like to know if I can see a GP for referral to the appropriate specialist? And if so, will the GP conduct their own tests? I am very fearful of seeing a doctor by myself and have no intention to tell my family yet so I would like to be as prepared as possible.
    Thanks!

    • Yes you can walk into any GP clinic. Tell the doctor your problem and he will make arrangments for you to see a psychiatrist. It is extremely straightforward and there is nothing for you to be worried about.

  25. Nur Aishah

    Hi Dr. Tan,

    I have tonsilitis since Thursday and have been to 2 different doctors.It has not been cured at all.They gave me a strong antibiotics but it’s still the same.I started vomiting a day ago and i saw fresh blood as well.One of the GP doctor mention that my tonsil is at its worst as there are pus on both of the tonsils.It is so swollen that it disrupt my breathing.Please advice what should i do next?Your kind reply is much appreciated!

    • Re-visit your doctor and tell him/her you would like to be referred to an ENT specialist.

  26. anonymous

    Hi Dr Tan,

    I actually have Social Anxiety Disorder, I’m actually seeing a psychologist, but he’s not in the position to prescribe medication. So I would like to ask if GPs are able to prescribe anxiety medication.

    Much thanks.

    • Hi anonymous,

      Yes. GPs in Singapore are certainly able to prescribe anti-anxiety meds. However, some might not be comfortable to do so and would refer you to see a psychiatrist. The best thing to do is to visit your neighbourhood GP and find out.

      rgds

      Dr Tan

  27. Very useful and accurate information. Also quite a nice read. Thank you!

    • Hi Arathi,

      I’m glad you liked it. Let me know if there is any other topic of bits of information you would like to see on this site.

      rgds

      Dr Tan

      • Michelle Zhong

        Dear Dr. Tan,

        Thank you very much for your information! It is very helpful.

        I would like to know if there is any doctor in the GP clinics (except KK, NUH etc. big government hospital)good at teating children’s common illness like flu and fever?

        • Hi Michelle,

          All GP clinics can attend to children’s illnesses. If the doctor feels the child requires further treatment, he will then refer you to the hospital. Of course for emergency cases, you can bring your child straight to the emergency department at any hospital. There are also many walk-in pediatric clinics scattered around the island. A quick Goolge search will show you where they are.

          rgds

          Dr Tan

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