Singapore has grown to be a country that is known for its commendable healthcare system. When it comes to orthopaedic treatment, we are fortunate to have a lot of experienced specialists around. But with our varying complaints and a long list of orthopaedic doctors, how do you start when looking for help?
We want to get help, and we want to get the right one as soon as possible. So, we prepared a primer to help you work through the necessary information you need to make an informed decision.
Orthopaedists: Your bone doctor
Orthopaedics is a medical speciality that focuses on the diagnosis, correction, prevention, and treatment of conditions and diseases that affect the musculoskeletal system. That includes your bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves. The physicians who specialize in this area are called orthopaedic surgeons or orthopaedists.
Orthopaedics is a speciality of incredible breadth and variety. Orthopaedists treat a gamut of diseases and conditions, such as fractures, dislocations, torn ligaments, sprains and strains, tendon injuries, pulled muscles and bursitis, ruptured disks, and sciatica just to name a few.
While all orthopaedic doctors are well-versed about all parts of the musculoskeletal system, some choose to specialize further. Some subspecialty areas of orthopedics include:
- hip and knee
- shoulder and elbow
- foot and ankle
- sports medicine
- musculoskeletal oncology
- trauma surgery
- pediatric orthopaedics
When do you need to see an Orthopaedic Doctor?
1. You have difficulty doing your usual activities.
Many people believe that pain medication is enough to deal with these types of issues. They may have never asked themselves the question: Do I need to see an orthopaedic doctor? If discomfort or injury is already making it difficult for you to move around and do your daily activities (e.g. walking up the stairs or carrying grocery bags), then it’s time that you see an orthopaedist. The earlier you seek help, the lesser the chances that your condition may worsen.
2. You suffer from chronic pain.
Chronic or persistent pain is pain that carries on longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment. Most people get back to normal after pain following an injury. To experience a few days of discomfort is one thing, but sometimes the pain carries on for longer or it occurs without any history of an injury. In these cases, you should strongly consider professional help.
3. Stiffness and reduced range of motion to your joints.
For some people, they start to notice their joints feeling tighter and tighter. A limited range of motion usually signifies joint disease such as arthritis. Since it is a degenerative condition, seek help from a specialist as soon as possible to prevent your condition from getting worse.
4. You experience instability while standing or walking.
Sometimes, feeling shaky or wobbly when doing basic tasks as standing, walking, sitting down, or standing up can be a warning sign. It can mean that something is wrong with your joints. An orthopaedist can help determine what’s behind it and have the cause corrected right away.
5. Signs of infection
If you notice a particular area to be warm, inflamed and reddened, this can be typical symptoms of an infection. This is all the more suspicious if you also develop a fever on top of all that.
6. You have suffered a soft tissue injury that hasn’t improved in 48 hours.
A soft tissue injury is used to describe injuries to the soft tissues in the body, rather than the harder bones. Examples of soft tissue injuries include bruises, sprains, and muscle contusions. Use the RICE method to see if the pain and swelling subside within two days. If any of these injuries do not resolve within 48 hours, be sure to have them assessed by an orthopaedist.
7. Joint pain that increases in intensity even during periods of rest.
If an unexplained joint pain increases in intensity even while at rest, this can signal a serious condition. Usually, this is associated with degenerative conditions like arthritis.
Finding the right Orthopaedic Doctor/Surgeon
ASK FOR REFERRALS
Talk to your primary care doctor. They will know orthopaedists in your area or they may have a referral network to turn to. They may also know which orthopaedic surgeons have subspecialties in specific types of surgeries, as this will vary between practitioners.
Other’s first-hand experience also helps. It would be wise to speak with your friends and family, some of whom may have seen an orthopaedic surgeon or know someone who has. You can also peruse the websites of professional organisations or online member directories where you can search by area and speciality.
REVIEW YOUR SURGEON’S EDUCATION AND CREDENTIALSSpend some time reviewing a surgeon’s background, including education, degrees, credentials, and training.
CONSIDER AN ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEON’S SPECIALTY AND TRAININGAs mentioned earlier, orthopaedics have a variety of subspecialties. So if you are an athlete who’s planning to get an injury corrected, it is to your advantage if you choose someone who specialises in sports injuries.
CHECK YOUR INSURANCE COVERAGEOrthopaedic treatments are not cheap. So your insurance will truly come in handy. So, you will want to know if your surgeon of choice is covered under your insurance plan. Choosing a practitioner outside of your insurance plan can put a dent in your out-of-pocket costs.
CHECK A SURGEON’S EXPERIENCE LEVEL
Experience is the best teacher. For that, you must check if your surgeon has the breadth of experience to handle your needs and potential complications. For instance, if you have any pre-existing conditions like diabetes and anaemia which can complicate surgical interventions, it’s important that you inquire about the surgeon’s experience in handling these types of situations.
Treatments you can expect when you get orthopaedic care
Orthopaedic surgeons do not always default to surgery just because they are surgeons. There is more to the title, and good ones will consider non-invasive treatments first before recommending surgery.
Conservative treatments often involve a collaborative effort among different healthcare teams. Sometimes a condition or injury does not improve with conservative measures. In these cases, your doctor may recommend surgery.
Meet with the Surgeon One-on-One
- discuss your situation
- ask any questions you have
- solicit their opinion
- check if their service can be covered by your insurance
- decide if they are the right surgeon for you
What to Expect at Your Orthopaedic Appointment
Once you’ve decided to see an orthopaedic specialist, here’s what you can expect from your visit:
- Paperwork – as with any first-time doctor’s appointment, expect to fill out paperwork regarding your symptoms, medical history, and insurance. Your primary care physician can help by providing documentation of past conditions and treatments.
- Examination – your orthopaedic specialist will begin by getting to know you as a patient and your medical history. Next, they will examine the areas that are causing pain or discomfort. The exam may include tests for things like limb strength and range of motion.
- Additional Tests – if your orthopaedic specialist cannot diagnose the problem through their initial examination, they may order additional tests such as X-rays and MRIs to better pinpoint the problem.
- Treatment Plan – once your orthopaedic specialist has diagnosed the problem, treatment can begin. Many injuries that orthopaedic specialists treat can be addressed with non-invasive treatments such as oral or injectable medication, at-home exercise, and physical therapy. Your specialist will create a treatment plan tailored to you, including plans for surgical treatment if necessary.
Healthcare CoverageIn Singapore, a routine check-up with a General Practitioner will likely cost you around S$20-S$30. Meanwhile, blood-work and X-ray will cost you around S$50-S$100. Specialist consultation in a private clinic could be between S$75 -S$150. If you are to go for a hip replacement, the average cost is around S$13,000, while a knee replacement is around S$15,000.
Government health insurance
To help afford healthcare bills, Singapore citizens and permanent residents are entitled to subsidised healthcare by the government. Further help in co-paying the balance of the medical bill is enabled through the Central Provident Fund (CPF), which is a compulsory savings scheme for citizens. Depending on factors such as age and income, a percentage of an employee’s monthly salary is contributed to the CPF. Part of the CPF contributions goes towards medical insurance schemes such as Medisave, Medishield Life, ElderShield and Medifund that collectively handles a major part of the co-pay amounts.
Private health insurance
If you’re a foreigner working in Singapore, you are excluded from making any CPF contributions, but this also means that you are exempted from the government’s subsidised health insurance schemes. It’s advisable that you consider other health insurance options to safeguard you and your family in the event of any critical illnesses.
There is a variety of choices and healthy competition among internationally recognised health insurance companies that can offer you a policy that suits your needs. Depending on your age, lifestyle habits, and the type of policy, the monthly cost of a critical illness private health insurance may range from S$75 to S$400 per insured person. For expats, it is highly likely that your company will provide an insurance policy that will include you and your family.