Can you imagine a hospital where floors are carpeted so you feel calm, soothed and protected? Where doors open silently so as not to jar your jangled nerves? Where vending machines are only filled with fresh fruit and the healthier the meal in the cafeteria the less it costs? How about elevator doors covered in exotic floral motifs and a Diabetes Center where you never wait more than ten minutes to be seen?
I could never have imagined these things but instead I saw them with my own eyes here in Singapore at the Alexandra Hospital. The hospital sits amid a lush and beautiful botanical garden that volunteer employees care for and each floor of the hospital has a view of greenery. In this tropical paradise even medicinal herbs are flowering in the gardens.
This hospital is the vision and result of its CEO, Mr. Liak, and his passionate staff. It is their mission to create a place of healing where people are helped to make healthy choices, even if it’s just taking the stairs instead of the elevator. No wonder stairways are easily accessible throughout the hospital, not hidden behind impenetrable or locked doors, and they are marked by big wooden red hearts that say, “Please give your heart a lift, use the stairs.”
I had the pleasure to meet Mr. Liak and discuss the state of healthcare in Singapore and the U.S. and the work I am doing bringing a more positive attitude to managing diabetes. Mr. Liak spent three hours with me and my husband, who has worked with him in the past, generously sharing what some would call a contrarian view: give diabetes patients a year of treatment and education and if they improve and own their management, encourage them to be peer-mentors wherein they can give back, help other patients and help the hospital provide its services to more patients. If they don’t take responsibility for their care after a year, patients are free to seek help elsewhere and leave space for new patients at Alexandra Hospital.
To say the least it makes one think. In the U.S. the health care system does not particularly motivate patients to become self-reliant and responsible for their care, and we know this is paramount managing diabetes. In fact, I have heard upon occasion a critical tone from my own endocrinologist’s office when I come in for a yearly visit rather than every three months. But why do I need to come four times a year? I am a well-educated patient managing my diabetes daily and getting the necessary tests as appropriate. I can easily discuss my test results with my doctor over the phone and make any necessary adjustments. I am doing what medical professionals say they want patients to be capable of doing, managing my own diabetes!
After chatting about societal influences on health care and patient behavior, I gave Mr. Liak five copies of my book, The ABCs Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes. His face lit up, he loved it. He said this is what we need, a more cheerful and optimistic attitude about managing diabetes. And with that he toured my husband and I through the hospital halls including what resembled a “war room” filled with storyboards, flow charts and feedback circles reflecting plans for the new, expanded hospital they are building. At every touch-point in the new hospital the patient will be accommodated, from a simple registration process to remote controls where patients can control the light and air temperature of their room. Where room furniture is being built with drawers and countertops that allow patients to put more than one thing in and on them. And who is in the hospital bed photo testing all the equipment? None other than Mr. Liak himself.
Our tour stopped at the Diabetes Centre where I was introduced to the staff and two copies of my book were handed to the Diabetes Centre Director and diabetes nurse. Talk began of translating my book into the Malaysian language, Malay. Thank goodness my head had not grown so large that I could not still get it through the door to the cafeteria where our tour ended. And over a bowl of vegetables and tofu Mr. Liak told me it was a dream of his to employ someone such as myself to consult with his professional staff and help inspire and encourage other patients. Can you imagine? In Singapore, you don’t have to, it’s on the drawing boards.
Leaving Alexandra Hospital I thought if I ever need to be in the hospital maybe I would consider, if time permitted, hopping a flight to Singapore. Meanwhile, I’m happy to do what I can to help the staff and patients here. And now that I’ve finished this post, do what most people who are not in the hospital do in Singapore, shop.