Examine efficiency of medical sector

Wednesday's editorial ("Foreign touch in national healthcare") raises several interesting points.

That Singapore is facing a shortage of doctors is one.

This is so in the public sector, perhaps, but definitely not in the private sector where many clinics are languishing.

That Singapore should train still more doctors is another.

It costs a few hundred thousand dollars of public money to train a doctor, and even more for specialists. Economically, it makes sense to train a certain quantum of local doctors and then import the rest to make up for any shortfall.

Foreign doctors will adapt, while local patients need to be taught how to do the same.

Having doctors who are trained abroad also brings a different perspective on the diagnosis and management of patients.

Unfortunately, over time, they conform to local norms and this precious perspective dissipates.

By eliminating wasteful and unnecessary healthcare, manpower hours and costs can be reduced.

An example would be redundant visits to doctors to follow up on investigations which have doubtful value to begin with.

Such visits are unproductive but a common practice here, done for the sake of avoiding litigation.

If we have been encouraging patient self-care, not enough has been done. If hospitals have not started video consultations for second and subsequent follow-ups - to alleviate physical patient congestion and cut down on consultation times - they should.

If companies allow staff who are feeling unwell to miss work for a few days without needing a doctor's medical certificate, the malingering hordes in doctors' offices would vanish.

The Government has given a big boost to private general practitioners, with the Community Health Assist Scheme and the Pioneer Generation system.

Further sharing out the disproportionate load between the public and private medical sectors across all fields may further dispel the notion that there is an insufficiency of doctors here.

If we are inefficient, wasteful and unproductive, no number of doctors is enough.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2015, with the headline 'Examine efficiency of medical sector'. Print Edition | Subscribe