ST GRAPHIC: BONG FORTIN / ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
By Natalie Soh
A TRADITIONAL Chinese medicine (TCM) centre costing $2.8 million will open at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) next month.
To be called Bao Zhong Tang - which roughly translates to 'hall of treasures' - the centre will complement SGH's suite of services and is expected to become a draw for patients in the region.
It is a joint venture between SingHealth and its equivalent institution in China, the Shanghai Hospital Development Centre (SHDC), which manages 23 hospitals in the coastal metropolis.
Among these are four of China's foremost TCM hospitals.
As part of the tie-up, the SHDC will select a team to be based here from among its best TCM physicians, explained Professor Gao Jie Chun, its deputy director-general.
He explained in Mandarin: 'We see this as a chance to expand the horizons of traditional Chinese medicine. It has such a rich tradition and history, but awareness is very low outside China.
'We can start in Singapore because we have a common language, and this can be our springboard to show the world what TCM is and can do.'
On its part, SingHealth will provide the operational and management support, including administrators and receptionists.
'We think of it as a premium, top-end TCM service,' said Ms Charity Wai, who heads the project on the SingHealth side.
Not only will walk-in patients be treated by experienced Chinese TCM physicians, the treatment herbs will be shipped directly from China, said Ms Wai, who is also the chief operating officer of the Singapore National Eye Centre.
Also, the remedies will be brewed under direct supervision of the TCM physicians before they are delivered to the patient.
The icing on the cake: the SHDC will send six master TCM physicians on regular visits to the SGH centre.
There are only about 200 of these masters, who are conferred the status by the Chinese government.
This is the first time that these senior practitioners - widely considered 'national treasures' in China - will be involved in regular consultations overseas.
Consultations and services in Bao Zhong Tang are likely to cost between $60 and $100.
The SGH centre is part of a larger deal between SingHealth and SHDC, inked in September last year.
Shanghai doctors and administrators have been learning the finer points of hospital administration from their Singaporean counterparts and there are also provisions for academic exchanges.
The deal also has both sides collaborating to establish 'medical facilities'. The Straits Times understands that the two clusters are discussing a joint hospital in Shanghai.
Said Prof Gao: 'We have a large expatriate population in Shanghai, about 800,000 people now.
'One area of collaboration could be a private hospital, as the expatriates are more comfortable with Western-style hospitals and administration.'
SingHealth declined to comment on a possible joint hospital.
It also declined comment when asked if Singapore doctors would be involved in treating patients in Shanghai. Prof Gao had said that Singapore doctors would be welcome in Shanghai.
Meeting of East and West in research
IN RESEARCH, 'the East and the West can meet'.
Professor Ng Han Seong, chairman of Singapore General Hospital's medical board and a board director of the Bao Zhong Tang TCM centre here, said this yesterday.
It is in this spirit that SGH doctors and the Shanghai TCM practitioners will, as part of the tie-up, embark on joint research projects to see if the rich Chinese tradition can help conditions that sometimes confound Western medical science.
These include blood disorders, diabetes and cancer.
Prof Ng told The Straits Times: 'There are obviously very different philosophies working here. In medical practice, we treat what is wrong, but in TCM, there is emphasis on harmony and a holistic approach.'
Under current regulations here, TCM physicians cannot practise beside mainstream doctors - which is why hospitals have opted to introduce separate TCM centres.
Having said that, in the SGH centre, the cooperation will go deeper as a research group has been assembled, comprising medical specialists from at least five disciplines.
The group's first project is to study how the different treatments can help a rash caused by a lack of platelets.
One in 10 patients suffering from what is medically termed 'refractory idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura' does not respond to conventional treatment like steroids.
Explained Prof Ng, who is himself a senior consultant with SGH's department of gastroenterology: 'TCM practitioners claim they are able to help here, and there is literature on this in the Chinese tomes. In fact, they split this into five different syndromes.
'We'd like to explore the possibilities, and maybe see where the two sides meet.'
Besides blood disorders, the doctors and TCM practitioners will also work together and study common diseases like diabetes and cancer.
He said: 'It's also about applying an evidence-based framework and methodology, so results can be measured and analysed by the wider medical community.'
SGH doctors will share their expertise on drawing up the research programmes and scientific protocols, he added.
'We can measure very specific outcomes. In diabetes, for instance, we look at the blood sugar levels in someone treated with TCM versus someone treated with conventional drugs.'
But the biggest plus in the project is the TCM centre's close proximity - on the grounds of SGH itself.
'When someone is at your doorstep, it is very easy to collaborate!' joked Prof Ng.