Retail and service industry goes mobile

Mobile is the latest buzzword in the retail and service industry. For example, there are roving food trucks and doctors on wheels, on-call manicurists and masseuses, taking their goods and services to their customers' doorsteps.

But gradually, service providers in Singapore are also jumping on the mobile bandwagon, targeting people who might otherwise have no access to healthcare or community services, such as the old and infirm.

Thanks to these mobile services, people can visit the dentist, get tested for HIV and get a mammogram or eye check without travelling too far.

The People's Association (PA) is the latest to go mobile. It has launched roving carts and a bus to take its activities closer to residents.

Earlier this month, it launched 11 CC Go Carts - foldable carts packed with materials that let residents try community club activities such as 3D drawing, clay art and balloon sculpting.

PA aims to visit about 10 hawker centres, as well as coffee shops, playgrounds and neighbourhood shopping areas, reaching out to about 10,000 residents this year.

Mr Ang Hak Seng, the association's chief executive director, says: "These pop-up CCs will be able to go right into the heart of the community where residents eat and play."

The CC Go Carts are smaller than the CC Xpress, a bus which was launched in August last year. So far, it has been deployed to 30 community events and reached out to about 30,000 participants. Activities offered at the CC Xpress bus and CC Go Carts are free.

It is not all fun and games though. Certain healthcare services are also packed into vans to reach out to vulnerable groups. NTUC Health, for example, started operating its first mobile dental clinic two weeks ago.

Costing more than $400,000, which is as much as a brick-and-mortar dental clinic, the mobile clinic aims to bring basic dental services, such as scaling, polishing, filling and simple extraction services, closer to the community.

Scaling and polishing at the mobile dental clinic cost $52 to $104. Patients with Pioneer Generation Cards or who are registered with the Community Health Assist Scheme get subsidised rates.

The mobile clinic is typically stationed in HDB carparks to serve residents in surrounding blocks and is equipped with a wheelchair lift for those who use a wheelchair or have mobility issues.

It aims to reach out to more than 2,000 seniors this year.

Says Mr Leon Luai, 42, head of clinical services and wellness at NTUC Health: "Seniors often don't go for regular dental checks because of the perceived high cost. Some may also have mobility difficulties.

"But many dental issues can be prevented with regular cleaning. We hope that with this mobile dental clinic, we can bring our services closer to the elderly."

The first private mobile dental clinic here was launched in 2008 by dental group Q & M.

About the size of a giant truck, the mobile dental clinic can attend to 13 patients in a day. Response to it has been overwhelming, says the group.

Similarly, advocacy group Action for Aids Singapore introduced a mobile testing service in 2011 to make HIV testing more accessible and convenient.

The service, which allows for anonymous testing and counselling, operates out of a van typically parked in carparks near nightspots and MRT stations. A test costs $30 to $40.

There were 2,573 tests conducted last year, up from 1,177 tests in 2012.

Users of the various mobile services welcome the ease and convenience.

Mr Koh Weijie, 27, who took part in a towel art session at a CC Go Cart parked at a hawker centre in Yuhua earlier this month, is looking at signing up for a towel art course at a CC, where he can learn how to fold towels into cute animal shapes.

Mr Yong Wee Leok, 71, who lives in a two-room rental flat in Bukit Merah, did not have a dental check-up for more than 10 years until two weeks ago when he visited a mobile dental clinic parked metres away from his flat.

Says the retiree, who has a slipped disc and walks with the help of a crutch: "It's hard for me to travel long distances and normal dental clinics are just so far away.

"At least now I don't have to travel so far for the dental check-up."

Meanwhile, a 26-year-old engineer went for an anonymous HIV test at a mobile testing service in December last year while out drinking with friends at the Tantric Bar in Neil Road.

He says: "The van was practically at the bar's doorstep and the service was a breeze.

"The personnel onsite were also friendly and non-judgmental, compared to a normal testing clinic which can be a sterile and stiff environment."

Dr Nitin Pangarkar, an associate professor of strategy and policy at the National University of Singapore Business School, says services may be going mobile because service providers want to differentiate themselves from their brick-and-mortar rivals.

In other cases, he says that mobile services may be provided when there is "a genuine constraint on the customers to travel, for instance, the older ones".

For example, some healthcare services in India are going mobile because people in the rural areas do not have access to such services.

But he says that to be successful, these mobile services need to meet an existing demand.

"When they do not fulfil a genuine need or do not lead to differentiation of services, there will not be enough takers for the service and it will fade away."

bang@sph.com.sg


Services on wheels

Mobile diabetes education and care centre

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The Diabetic Society of Singapore converted a private bus into a mobile screening service for diabetes in 2008.

Typically stationed near community clubs, hospitals and dialysis centres, the vehicle offers diabetic retinal screening, diabetic foot screening, blood sugar level checks and diabetes education to patients. Services cost from $10.50 to $20.

The number of cases it has handled increased from 513 in 2009 to 1,229 last year.

Mobile eye clinic

Launched in September last year by Standard Chartered Bank in partnership with the Society of Ophthalmology, this is the first initiative in Singapore to provide eyecare on-the-move for the elderly.

The mobile eye clinic visits nursing homes, void decks and community clubs, and has served 864 elderly so far.

It offers services such as vision checks, refraction assessment, intra-ocular pressure examination and basic eyecare treatment. It also provides ready-made reading glasses for the elderly who need them.

Mammobus

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This mobile screening centre, which offers digital mammography, was introduced in 2000 by the Breast Cancer Foundation and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The National Healthcare Group Diagnostics took over the bus in 2006. A mammogram can cost up to $100, depending on the subsidises one is eligible for.

From 2001 to May 2013, more than 42,000 mammograms were completed on the vehicle.

Mobile X-ray

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Launched in 2006 by the National Healthcare Group Diagnostics, this 6m-long trailer has state-of-the-art digital imaging equipment.

It also has an automatic lifting device for patients in wheelchairs.

For a few weeks every year, it is deployed at the Nanyang Technological University to support its pre-enrolment health screening.

The trailer has also been providing on-site X-ray services at the F1 Pit Building for the F1 races since 2012.

In June, it will do the same at the Singapore Sports Hub for this year's SEA Games.

Mobile libraries

A mobile library service was first introduced here in 1960.

In 2008, the National Library Board re-launched the service as a mobile library bus, affectionately known as Molly.

The first Molly, a refitted SBS Transit bus, was retired in 2011.

A second Molly, with a wheelchair ramp, started operations a year later.

Last year, two small mobile libraries, known as "mini Mollys", were introduced to serve mainly kindergartens and childcare centres in HDB estates. These estates have smaller carparks that cannot be served by the big Molly.

Since the service's 2008 re-launch, the Molly fleet has served more than 495,000 people.