Healthcare system's bottom line: Address patients' concerns

The rationale given for the reorganisation of the national healthcare system is to better utilise personnel and assets, and for more efficient services, among others ("Healthcare services will be streamlined into 3 clusters"; Jan 19).

Between the current and previous systems, I have encountered the same problems, such as long waits to make specialist appointments and to see a doctor, even with an appointment.

Whatever changes are made to our national healthcare services, the bottom line is that the management should strive to achieve service standards such as the following:

•Stipulate a maximum waiting period to secure appointments with a specialist or for tests or treatments (for example, MRI, physiotherapy) to within, say, two weeks;

•Patients should not have to wait beyond 30 minutes of their appointments to consult the doctor;

•Patients need not have to wait more than 30 minutes to collect their medicine;

•At specialist outpatient clinics (SOCs), new patients should be seen by a specialist at their first appointment, instead of a medical officer (MO), to ensure that the patient's condition is not serious. An MO could then do a follow-up;

•General practitioners should be allowed to refer patients to SOCs and these patients should qualify for subsidies. This will reduce the workload of MOs at polyclinics, who are often consulted to get subsidised specialist referrals; and

•For senior citizens, who often have multiple medical consultations and need follow-up consultations at SOCs, efforts should be made to give them appointments on the same day, where possible and medically appropriate, to alleviate any difficulties that arise from frequent hospital visits.

I suggest that the management of the new clusters conduct sessions with patients to have a better understanding of their concerns so that the reorganisation results in a relevant and effective system.

Lim Chong Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2017, with the headline 'Healthcare system's bottom line: Address patients' concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe