MY friend's 1-year-old son was recently warded at one of the finest hospitals in the city for an unexplained recurring fever. She and her husband sent their first-born to the private medical centre in the middle of the night when the fever refused to subside even after the child had been sponged with cold water.
Less than an hour after arriving at the hospital, the child was warded. Although he had responded well to medication, he was kept under observation for a couple of days.
My friend was provided with a bed in the single room ward so that she could be with her son. Food could be ordered at the touch of a button and delivered to the room if she wished.
When her son was discharged, everything proceeded just as efficiently. All her husband had to do was to sign the acknowledgement papers and fill in a customer service satisfaction form in the discharge lounge.
The only cause for concern, she said, was the medical bill which amounted to slightly over RM2,000.
Confiding in me later, my friend said she was relieved that her son was attended to promptly and had the best medical care. She was also thankful for the medical insurance coverage provided by her husband's company.
Healthcare had changed so much since the '70s. Back then, almost everyone depended on the Klinik Kesihatan which charged 50 sen a visit.
Dental checks were free and students dread the twice yearly visits by the Klinik Pergigian vans. Teams of "bidan kerajaan" (government midwives) on bicycles visiting mothers who had just given birth in the kampung were also a common sight.
There were few private clinics in those days. To live near one was a comforting thought; to be able to visit one, a luxury.
But then, as I remember it, most of us were tough. Seasonal bouts of flu, sore throat, and conjunctivitis were promptly dealt with using concoctions of garden herbs such as "hempedu bumi" (chiretta), snake grass (chuar chow in Hokkien), "pegaga" (pennywort), and the likes.
Today, we are blessed with more private clinics than government dispensaries.
In some areas, they even outnumber fast-food outlets and had longer queues. I don't know if more babies are delivered at the general hospital than in private medical centres but I know that the standard of healthcare has been so good that some people actually dread having to go to smaller towns where the lone clinic closes sharp at sunset.
I have stopped marvelling at the medical breakthroughs I read or see on television these days. Although I am thankful that modern medicine has advanced by leaps and bounds, I wonder sometimes if it has actually leapt out of reach of those with shallower pockets.
Modern healthcare is big business today. Private hospitals have shed their white coat syndrome and are beginning to feel like hotels. Their earnings could well be a major contributor to the economy if healthcare tourism takes off in a big way.
Thankfully, there are still government hospitals and clinics to cater to the poor and those who do not have medical insurance.
Even the latter is not cheap these days, especially for those who have just retired and had not been protected by one.