Paradigm shift needed for sustainable healthcare

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, assisted by Senior Physiotherapist Ma Shi Min, tries out a high-tech treadmill at Sengkang General Hospital, on March 23, 2019.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, assisted by Senior Physiotherapist Ma Shi Min, tries out a high-tech treadmill at Sengkang General Hospital, on March 23, 2019.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Recently, in a speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore's healthcare receipts already exceed $9 billion and are rising faster (Hard choices need to be made for sustainable healthcare: PM, March 24).

This does not include the billions more that patients spend on unsubsidised alternative treatments and supplements when medication stops working. Hence, PM Lee's speech is timely.

As a 70-year-old caregiver to my wife, who has had Parkinson's disease for 18 years and dementia for five years, I want to expand on PM Lee's key points.

PM Lee said many diseases are preventable if people watch their diet and lead healthy lifestyles.

I agree, but this should be supported by more pro-active screening processes. Screening for vitamin and mineral deficiency, heavy metals, hormonal imbalance, inflammation, and genetic and immune biomarkers will help doctors to be patient-centric in their advice and allow patients to know how to prevent illness.

Another important factor of "shifting to a more patient-centric, multi-disciplinary approach" is to be holistic in diagnosing root causes of a disease. In the long run, addressing root causes will be more cost-effective than treating symptoms indefinitely.

While I commend the Government for building new hospitals and clinics, restructuring our healthcare and providing much-needed subsidies, the sad truth is that prescription drugs do not work over time, do not slow down progression of a disease, come with side effects and can lead to other health issues.

Our current treatment approach does not appear to mobilise the body's power to heal itself to fight the disease. It is time to consider alternative therapies that do.

The $80 million boost for stem-cell research announced recently is much appreciated by those with incurable diseases and chronic pain ($80m boost for programmes to manufacture living cells as medicine, March 27).

It is my earnest hope that stem-cell therapy will be available soon for my wife to benefit from.

A paradigm shift is urgently needed in the way we think and manage our healthcare to achieve an improved health outcome at an affordable cost.

Each of us has a part to play in achieving this.

Seah Guan Hai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2019, with the headline 'Paradigm shift needed for sustainable healthcare'. Print Edition | Subscribe