SINGAPORE - From the second half of 2023, residents aged 60 and above will be able to discuss their health goals and medical history with a dedicated family physician when they enrol in the Healthier SG programme.
The programme will be extended to those in the 40 to 59 age group in the following two years.
This comes as Singapore strives to shift its healthcare model towards preventing individuals from falling ill, instead of reactively caring for those who are already sick.
Since March 2022, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has consulted more than 6,000 residents and stakeholders such as general practitioners (GPs), employers and community partners.
A White Paper on Healthier SG – listing the key features and recommendations of the programme – was submitted to Parliament on Wednesday, and will be debated in October.
The Straits Times looks at how the programme aims to prevent or delay the onset of chronic diseases and ill health.
Q: What can residents expect when they enrol in the Healthier SG programme?
A: When enrolment starts, MOH will send eligible residents an SMS text message to invite them to choose their preferred clinics. During the first consultation, which will be free, the doctor will assess the resident's medical history, health needs and concerns.
For those with no chronic conditions, the doctor will advise them on appropriate preventive measures, such as health screenings and vaccinations, and the Government will fully subsidise the nationally recommended ones.
For those with chronic conditions, the doctor will work with them on follow-up management.
Everyone enrolled in the programme will have a personalised health plan.
To monitor a resident's progress, the GP will check on him remotely, such as over the phone, or when he sees the doctor for other checks. This brief annual check will be subsidised by the Government.
Those with chronic conditions would likely require two to four follow-up consultations annually, and prevailing subsidies will apply for their visits and treatments.
Q: What does a health plan look like?
A: A health plan is an overview of the resident's key health parameters, which include a set of health goals, such as weight loss or improvement in chronic conditions.
The plan would also include follow-ups such as health screenings, diet adjustments and an exercise regimen.
The conversation between the doctor and patient on the desired health outcomes, action plans and care preferences will be based on the health plan.
Q: How can I be sure the level of care is consistent given that different family doctors may have different approaches?
A: To ensure a consistent level of care, MOH is developing 12 care protocols on managing key chronic conditions.
For a start, the care protocols will cover three of the most common chronic conditions: diabetes, hypertension and lipid disorders.
The protocols will lay out recommended health screenings, medication, lifestyle adjustments and when specialist attention or acute care is required.
About a year after the initial launch, MOH will broaden care protocols to cover other common chronic conditions as well as specific screenings required for seniors.
Subsequently, the Government will progressively cover other complex chronic conditions, such as mental health and end-of-life care.
Q: Will all GP clinics be on board this scheme?
A: To participate in the Healthier SG programme, clinics will have to meet a few criteria.
Each GP clinic must have at least one family doctor registered as a family physician within seven years of the launch of the programme's enrolment.
Family doctors must also participate in core government schemes, such as the Chronic Disease Management Programme, Community Health Assist Scheme, and the Screen for Life and national vaccination programmes.
Other requirements include partnering a healthcare cluster and using a compatible clinic management system within a year of the programme's launch.
Q: Will I be allowed to switch doctors?
A: In the first two years after the initial enrolment, residents will be allowed to switch doctors up to four times. This allows residents more time to find a clinic they are comfortable with.
After that, MOH will allow one change a year to accommodate personal preferences and change in life circumstances, such as families who move house.
Q: What about those with employer medical benefits?
A: The Government is urging employers to encourage their panel doctors to participate in the Healthier SG programme so their employees can see the same doctor to enjoy both employer and Healthier SG benefits.
Alternatively, residents can still choose to see a company panel doctor for episodic care, while enrolling with a family doctor for preventive and chronic consultations.
Q: What other incentives are there to encourage residents to lead healthier lifestyles?
A: Today, under the National Steps Challenge by the Health Promotion Board, residents who are active can earn health points, which can be used to exchange for vouchers from merchants such as supermarket chain FairPrice. Residents need to download the Healthy 365 app to accumulate points.
To encourage residents to exercise more, MOH will enhance health points for those on the programme. Beyond just counting of steps, health points will also be awarded for a range of physical activities and even for adherence to diet plans. Details of these are not available yet.