Cut healthcare costs by reducing overuse of tech

There is no doubt that new technology and sophisticated equipment improve the diagnosis and treatment of disease, and increases in healthcare costs are inevitable.

This was pointed out by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his recent National Day Rally speech.

He said: "Singaporeans are indeed spending more on healthcare - partly because we have more advanced treatment options and better, more sophisticated equipment" (The Merdeka Generation is not forgotten; Aug 22).

But the misuse and overuse of technology will lead to unnecessary healthcare costs.

Recognising this problem, the United States in 2012 started the Choosing Wisely campaign for medical speciality professional organisations to study their data and make recommendations to prevent the overuse of an investigation or treatment. The intent was to reduce waste in healthcare.

This campaign has proven to be successful and the recommendations have assisted in patient-doctor discussions as to what is best for the patient.

Patients sometimes make requests for treatment against their doctor's advice and vice versa.

Perhaps it is time for the medical profession in Singapore to pause and review the number of investigations and treatments that are being done unnecessarily, especially those which carry risks and long-term complications, and make appropriate recommendations.

We should be campaigning for lower costs, better care and better health instead.

Also, as ageing is unavoidable, are we paying enough attention to the preventive aspect of diseases instead of emphasising the treatment of illnesses?

One aspect of ageing is the gradual deterioration of the cognitive function of the brain.

Studies done by the National University of Singapore and spearheaded by the NUS Mind-Science Centre have shown that cognitive impairment can be prevented or slowed down by measures which do not require large funding, as in the use of drugs and machines.

As we recognise that we are an ageing population, such programmes, like the prevention of dementia, could be provided with more support and made available to all Singaporeans.

Wong Hee Ong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2018, with the headline 'Cut healthcare costs by reducing overuse of tech'. Print Edition | Subscribe