Many of Taiwan’s major medical centers now house private clinics that offer premium services to patients with the means to pay out-of-pocket and provide the hospitals with an additional source of revenue.
A quick glance at the waiting room at the Taiwan Adventist Hospital’s International Priority Care Center (PCC) reveals that this is no ordinary Taiwanese clinic. The enormous plush gray couches are empty of waiting patients and the atmosphere is silent. Strikingly, the front counter is partitioned into sections labeled “English” and “Japanese,” directing visitors to mask-wearing front-desk staff who speak the appropriate languages.
Among similar clinics popular with the American community in Taipei are the Health Promotion Program at the Koo Foundation Sun Yat-sen Cancer Center and the Special Clinic Cathay General Hospital. These private clinics offers more personalized medical attention than regular hospitals and clinics, and are culturally attuned to foreigners’ expectations regarding healthcare. Although they do not accept payment through Taiwan’s National Health Insurance system, they are usually cheaper than comparable care in the U.S.
The basic registration fee at PCC is NT$1,700, and once medication and other treatments are factored in, patients generally pay around NT$5,000 to NT$6,000 per visit. By contrast, seeing a doctor at a medical center, the largest type of hospital in Taiwan, requires a co-payment of NT$420.
The clinic has 20 in-house doctors, but additional staff from the main hospital often double up as PCC doctors. Besides English, the center is also renowned for its Japanese-speaking medical staff that include experts in several specialty areas. Some of these doctors have Japanese medical qualifications and are accredited in Japan.
“We have the largest number of Japanese patients daily among hospitals in the Taipei region,” says Jonathan Tepeng Tseng, the head of the center. There are also doctors who speak Spanish, Portuguese, German, Korean, and Burmese.
In the main hospital, Tseng often sees up to 90 patients during a four-hour rotation, but PCC policy caps the number of patients seen by a doctor at 12 per day, with each appointment generally lasting 20 to 30 minutes. Tseng says he finds this arrangement more professionally satisfying.
Some of the premium services the clinic offers include same-day scheduling for appointments and designated parking spaces. Tseng notes that some medical procedures cannot be handled at the PCC and may be performed in the main hospital instead. PCC staff escort patients through the various hospital procedures, with PCC patients typically given priority attention.
Although many Taiwanese are used to having very brief conversations with physicians before medications are prescribed, Tseng notes that foreigners often prefer longer consultations and may object to being prescribed excessive medications. If patients have questions, the PCC staff answers them patiently – and even makes follow-up phone calls to check on the patient’s condition.
Established in 1989, the PCC typically attracts foreign diplomats and other expatriates with private health insurance. The main hospital was founded in the 1950s, part of a network of over 170 affiliated hospitals set up by Seventh Day Adventist missionaries. Tseng says that international background helps attract foreigners new to Taiwan as they are already familiar with the group’s reputation.
The PCC has direct payment contracts with many international insurers, and the staff are trained to understand the different packages they offer. The hospital also accepts credit cards and can assist foreign visitors with visa preparations and plane tickets and make hotel reservations for extended stays.
Rachel Lu Jui-fen, a professor of Health Care Management at Chang Gung University, says that nearly all of Taiwan’s major medical centers now offer this kind of private medical service for international patients, as well as discrete services for rich Taiwanese who do not want to wait in long queues to see a doctor. In some cases, particular procedures may be covered by the NHI but most costs are paid out of pocket.
The two-tiered healthcare service has had its critics, who argue that everyone in society should have access to the same care. As a result, Lu says, “the major medical centers don’t really advertise these services, but they don’t mind the extra revenue.”