A local survey, conducted by online news portal, Malay Mail Online, revealed some shocking statistics about the general Malaysian public’s perception towards public healthcare. This is mainly due to the painstaking hospital wait they have to endure amidst busy schedules.

Survey results raises questions

Running from 16 to 18 August, the survey received 358 responses and gathered data about period of waiting times amongst other findings.

It was discovered that 26% of survey respondents cited prolonged waits as the core reason they abandoned medical treatment at public clinics or hospitals in the last year. Additionally, 20% claimed they sought alternative treatment or abandoned treatment wholly due to this.

On the topic of waiting time period, 40% of respondents said they waited about four hours to see a doctor at public clinics or hospitals in the last year. An hour wait was recorded by 26%, while 8% endured less than an hour wait, and approximately 7% revealed they waited between two and four hours. Shockingly, 2% of respondents waited a whopping eight hours for service in these establishments.

Some respondents quote unpaid leave and employers not allowing leave as reasons for not seeking treatment. Photo credit: Malay Mail Online
Some respondents quote unpaid leave and employers not allowing leave as reasons for not seeking treatment. Photo credit: Malay Mail Online

90 minutes: Waiting time have been the same since 2014

Despite the above statistics, the Health Ministry noted that the waiting times at public hospitals have been shortened. Patients can expect to be attended within 90 minutes.

Health deputy Director-General Datuk Dr S. Jeyaindran responded to the Malay Mail Online’s survey, stating that specialist clinics sometimes required patients to undergo tests and screenings first. He explained, “If it’s an 11.00am doctor appointment, we ask the patient to come at 9.00am to do various tests before seeing the doctor.”

The total contact time to see a clinician at eye clinics, for instance, could be up to three hours. “In many places, the waiting time has come down a lot,” he explained.

Datuk Dr Hajah Zailan Adnan, Selangor State Health Department director, spoke to the news platform regarding the statistics as well. She said the waiting time at public hospitals in Selangor have been about the same since 2014.

In regards to patients’ allegations of waiting up to four hours to see a clinician, Dr Hajah Zailan suggested that some patients might be including the time they take to locate a parking spot and that “they have to understand what is waiting time.”

Datuk Dr Hajah Zailan Adnan said waiting times are calculated as the period between taking a queue number and getting the first contact of service from hospital staff. Photo credit: Malay Mail Online
Datuk Dr Hajah Zailan Adnan said waiting times are calculated as the period between taking a queue number and getting the first contact of service from hospital staff. Photo credit: Malay Mail Online

She also touched on the matter of patient overload in the state’s public hospitals (with bed occupancy rate over 90% at all times). It is dependent on how “overload” is perceived, she added. “If that’s considered ‘overload’, it’s overload. If you consider it optimisation of the hospital, then it is optimisation,” said Dr Hajah Zailan.

Self-medicating for serious conditions, a big no-no

On the topic of self-medicating for serious ailments due to the long hospital waits, several local doctors are condemning it, as it is imprecise and dangerous.

Oncologist Datuk Dr Mohamed Ibrahim A. Wahid related a case of a woman patient in Kota Kinabalu who was diagnosed with Stage Four breast cancer. She has declined to see a doctor; but bought oral chemotherapy drugs from a pharmacy instead—and followed her friend’s dosage.

“We don’t know how many patients will suffer complications or side effects as a result of people buying drugs over the counter. And these are dangerous drugs,” he shared.

“Ministry of Health (MOH) says you can’t buy antibiotics without proper prescriptions. However, extremely dangerous drugs that can kill you can be bought over the counter in pharmacies without proper prescription and documentation. And we don’t know if patients are being supervised,” he explained.

Former Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Milton Lum weighed in, providing his two cents worth in regards to the survey results. He said those refusing to go to public hospitals due to long waiting periods were placing themselves at a bigger risk from their ongoing health conditions – like hypertension and diabetes.

“The public healthcare system is being stretched. At some point in time, when you stretch anything, it'll reach a tipping or breaking point,” he continued.

There were some benefits to self-medication, noted Dr Lum, such as less government expenditure for minor health conditions. However, incorrect self-diagnosis, choice of treatment and drug dosage, as well as dangerous drug interactions and masking of severe disease were some risks associated with it.

“At no time should anyone with a chronic disease stop treatment without medical advice,” advised Dr Lum. MIMS

Read more:
MOH: “Problems faced by drug manufacturers” – part of the reason behind drug shortage at government hospitals
MMA urges MOH to clarify process for prescribing branded medicines to patients, especially pensioners
Malaysia: Insurance associations urge government to implement fee transparency among private hospitals

Sources:
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/hours-long-hospital-waits-driving-some-to-abandon-treatment#86BA1GJIo2K0Cdl4.97
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/health-ministry-insists-90-minutes-for-service-at-public-hospitals#eJoUjxwCSSSpVC4K.97
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/doctors-warn-malaysians-against-self-medicating#5y6JMEt0dHuR5j08.97