Singapore’s medical device market is expected to grow as the island state strengthens its reputation as the region’s healthcare hub and center of healthcare excellence. Demand for state of the art medical technologies is high as Singapore strives to provide first class healthcare delivery systems and facilities to its residents as well as serve the international patient market.
The U.S., Japan and Germany are the top three leading suppliers of medical equipment in Singapore. There are significant number of companies that have established a presence by setting up their regional headquarters there in an effort to be closer to and better serve their customers. The U.S. enjoys a good reputation and is recognized by the industry as technologically superior, providing high quality, advanced and reliable equipment. However, the U.S. is not price competitive in the lower-end consumables, typically supplied by manufacturers in more labor-abundant countries throughout Asia.
Singapore has a mixed healthcare market comprising competent public and private providers and together they provide excellent healthcare services and offer choices to both Singaporeans and foreign patients.
Demand for medical devices comes from public and private hospitals and clinics. The Ministry of Health (MOH) is the largest consumer, accounting for nearly 70% of local demand. The Parkway Group, owner of the three largest private hospitals in Singapore, is also a significant consumer of medical devices.
Price and quality are often cited as primary factors that determine purchasing decisions of medical devices. Other considerations are reliable and prompt after-sales service. For large government procurement, purchases are typically made via tender announcements.
There are central purchasing departments consisting of a team from the various public sector hospital’s Material Management Departments (MMDs) who work together to achieve economies of scale for large purchases.
Typically, hospitals make their own purchasing decisions and source for products through the MMDs in the various hospitals. They will in turn consult with the end-users of the medical equipment on the product specifications.
There are no custom duties on medical devices. A 5.0% goods and services tax (GST) is imposed on all goods sold and services provided, locally. Imports are subject to GST, but payments are refundable on re-exports.
Foreign companies who are new to the market and interested in exporting to Singapore pay consider appointing a local distributor to represent their company’s products and services. Given the small market size of the island state, most potential distributors would request for exclusive rights to sell the product. This will ensure that they commit their resources to promoting the product to the appropriate end-users and reap the returns should a sale materialize.
Depending on the medical equipment, the foreign company will be required to either provide samples, or accord special rates to the potential distributor for “demo units”. The potential distributor will use the samples to conduct a survey of the market to ascertain interest in the product while the “demo units” will be used as they demonstrate the products’ technology to the potential buyers.
As the sales in the local market increases, the foreign company can look into setting up an on-going presence in Singapore much like how some large MNCs have set up regional offices in Singapore. This brings the foreign company closer to their customers, demonstrates their commitment to the region and allows for prompt and enhanced customer service.
Foreign companies can take part in regional trade shows, international medical device fairs, or sector-specific conferences where they can showcase their products, technologies and services.