Screening is an important part of public healthcare

Mr Chan Yeow Chuan ("Compulsory health screening could raise costs"; last Friday) raises a number of valid concerns regarding compulsory health screening.

Nevertheless, weighing the costs and benefits, health screenings - undertaken on a voluntary basis - should still be included under the MediShield Life scheme.

The importance of regular health screenings cannot be overstated.

While there is admittedly a risk of overdiagnosis, we cannot afford to flirt with the other end of the spectrum either - that is, the failure to detect life-threatening diseases that might not immediately present obvious symptoms.

For example, dementia, high blood pressure and high blood sugar can manifest without the patient noticing any symptoms.

These ailments, if detected early, can be corrected through dietary and lifestyle modifications, before they develop into full-blown conditions, which demand more complex and costly forms of treatment.

Moreover, despite the alleged inefficacy of general health screenings, targeted screening for specific diseases based on individual risk has proven effective for diseases such as breast cancer and prostate cancer ("Screening for cancers should be more targeted" by Dr Yik Keng Yeong; Monday).

Herein lies the problem.

Health screening, in general, entails relatively high costs which must be borne by the patient. A cursory check shows that government hospitals charge upwards of $200 or $300 for basic health-screening packages.

This constitutes a tremendous financial hurdle and mental obstacle that deter many from undergoing screening, reducing the overall benefit to society.

Inclusion of health screening under MediShield Life would, no doubt, mitigate this.

Not only would implementing a voluntary model minimise the administrative and funding problems that a mandatory scheme might entail, but it would also encourage individuals to take ownership of their own healthcare.

Even if such a scheme were to demand a considerable slice of expenditure, the potential returns are self-evident.

It is well documented that advanced economies incur substantial losses, in terms of lower productivity and output, when the health of the workforce is diminished.

Health screenings constitute an important pillar of public healthcare infrastructure.

Ensuring increased uptake is, therefore, a sound investment, on the whole.

As the adage goes, prevention is better than cure.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2016, with the headline 'Screening is an important part of public healthcare'. Print Edition | Subscribe