Interview: Caroline Riady

In terms of medical tourism, how competitive is Indonesia’s health sector globally?

CAROLINE RIADY: Private hospitals and the Ministry of Health have been discussing the potential of increasing medical tourism for quite some time. Indonesian hospitals perform thousands of heart surgeries each year, and we also have expertise in other complex procedures, such as kidney transplants and gamma knife neurosurgery. Telemedicine, although currently lacking the proper regulation, also presents an opportunity as many start-ups are now emerging in this space. However, the negative perception of Indonesian health care services by Western countries remains a challenge for the growth of the sector. If Indonesian hospitals can effectively market their services, particularly abroad in countries – such as Australia – that have extensive waiting lists for surgery and comparatively high-priced services, and if there is concerted effort and sustained investment by both the public and private sector, this will positively shift these perceptions.

What actions could be taken to address the shortage of medical professionals?

RIADY: Access to available specialist doctors remains a key challenge. Foreign-educated local talents are currently facing a difficult accreditation process to allow them to practise in Indonesia, which many returning doctors fail to secure despite their qualifications. We welcome the opportunity to work with the government to help the private sector to achieve an outcome that ensures highly educated foreign medical talent and Indonesian-born, foreign-educated experts can operate in Indonesia. As health care services are expanding to a greater number of cities, sufficient numbers of highly skilled specialists are necessary. Further educating specialists so that they can be deployed within the private sector is also crucial. A productive, ongoing dialogue between the government and the private sector is necessary to not only assist with the growth of medical talent, but also to achieve the shared goal of providing all of Indonesia with modernised, accessible and quality health care.

How feasible do you find the government’s 2019 health insurance objectives?

RIADY: It is possible for the entire population to be covered under the national health insurance system, Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional (JKN), by the end of 2019. Local governments in remote areas are aiming for universal health coverage for their citizens, and in some areas, such as Yogyakarta, full coverage has already been achieved. The social insurance administration organisation is an honourable and bold initiative. The private sector must continue working with the government to ensure that funds are used efficiently, and that the needs of doctors, hospitals and most importantly patients are met. The structure of JKN may need to be reviewed to support the rapid rise in demand for health care services, and thus subsequent growth in the amount of hospital beds and medical professionals.

What do you consider to be the most pressing challenges for the health care industry?

RIADY: Infant and mother mortality rates remain high in Indonesia. Moreover, accessing remote regions can be difficult. There are clinics in Papua that cannot even be reached by car and, compared to other Indonesian provinces, operations in Papua are among the most expensive because the bulk of equipment and medical infrastructure must be flown in. Additionally, the ratio of hospital beds to citizens, at 12.1: 1000, continues to pose a challenge. Lastly, not only does there continue to be an undersupply of specialists, but certain facilities, including cardiology and chemotherapy dialysis units, are not being fully utilised. To combat these issues in the short term, creating a better functioning health ecosystem, improving training and education, and growing the role of the private sector are the main priorities.