That was a question asked up by Vice President Jusuf Kalla at a seminar held by the Indonesian Medical Association to observe the 100th National Awakening Day in Jakarta last week.
He had to have been joking. Well, in a way he was, but he was actually talking about a very serious matter: the need for Indonesian doctors to improve their services to build patients' trust. "I am sure it is not because of different brains (between Indonesian and Singaporean doctors)," Kalla said, commenting on the fact that many Indonesians seek health care abroad.
He then called on Indonesian doctors to put a smile on their faces, treat patients in a friendly manner and learn to communicate better with them.
"When it comes to smiles, we lose," he said, referring to the hospitality of Singaporean medical providers.
Five percent of rich patients in Indonesia prefer to go to Singapore, according to the Vice President.
It is not a new phenomenon. It was reported that Indonesians -- mostly high-ranking government officials and businessmen -- started to seek medical care in Singapore in the 1970s following the country's oil boom.
Indonesia, indeed, is the biggest market for Singapore tourism, and apparently the highest number of medical travelers also comes from Indonesia.
More than 400,000 foreigners sought health services in Singapore last year. They were part of the 10.3 million people visiting the country, mostly from Indonesia (1,956,000), followed by China (1,114,000), Australia (768,000), India (749,000) and Malaysia (646,000).
Singapore, with a population of 4.5 million, had about 6,500 doctors in 2004, according to Britannica Online Encyclopedia.
As for Indonesia, the medical association said last year there were about 50,000 general practitioners and 20,000 specialists in the country, while the population reached more than 220 million people.
Indonesia definitely has many good physicians. But there are also many who fail to perform well in their jobs. The shortage of doctors might be a contributing factor that affects the quality of medical services in Indonesia. This is aggravated by complaints from patients about the lack of compassion among doctors and other medical workers, as well as health care commercialism.
There is no guarantee that patients who receive medical treatment abroad will be cured. But professional health care offered by Singapore builds hope in patients' hearts while medical providers do their best to make Indonesians feel "at home". Many of them have Indonesian or Indonesian-speaking doctors and medical staff, and their international patient centers are ready to help patients with services that include appointments for specialist consultations, accommodation, travel planning, translation and airport transfer.
Some even have representatives in Indonesia. The Raffles Hospital, for example, has offices in Jakarta, Semarang, Yogyakarta and Makassar. Mount Elizabeth Hospital's Parkway Cancer Center has information centers in 17 cities in Indonesia, including Jakarta, Bali and Medan.
Dieta Setiabudi, marketing specialist for oncology at the cancer center, said that before patients go to Singapore, they could ask doctors for advice on cost estimates as well as the expected length of stay in Singapore.
Most importantly, patients can make sure that they receive proper attention from the doctors.
"Our focus is on the patient and not the disease ...; and always remembering to treat every cancer patient with dignity," Dieta quoted the center's medical director, Dr. Ang Peng Tiam, as saying.
Singapore has 13 private hospitals, 10 government hospitals and several specialist groups, which all welcome foreign patients warmly.
The National University Hospital has a cancer center that is especially dedicated to foreign patients. At this center, located on the eight floor of the Kent Ridge Wing, now and then you will hear patients chatting in Indonesian in the comfortable spacious waiting lounges.
Indeed, patients are indulged with comfort. In addition to sweets, magazines and newspapers, there is a machine in a corner that allows patients and their family or friends to enjoy hot chocolate, teh tarik or other drinks at any time.
With its professional health care and friendly service, Singapore hopes to attract one million medical travelers in 2012.
Forget about last week's fuel price hike that rocked Indonesia. Even though it has resulted in the weakening of the rupiah against the Singaporean dollar, this will apparently have no impact on medical tourism.
Currently, medical travelers are seeking a wide range of health-care services, from basic screening and wellness services, to cosmetic and commoditized surgeries to high-end surgical procedures and cancer care, according to Singapore Medicine.
If Indonesian doctors do not follow Kalla's advice and Singapore persists with its determination to meet its target in medical tourism, maybe one day there will be people traveling to Singapore simply to remove their warts.
T.Sima Gunawan, Contributor, Jakarta