Faced with a busy emergency department that sees 400 to 500 patients a day, Changi General Hospital (CGH) is hoping to reduce the crowd by offering a $50 discount to patients who see a general practitioner (GP) first.
It launched the GPFirst scheme on Monday - in preparation for the traditional flood of patients during the Chinese New Year holidays.
More than 130 GPs in nearby areas like Pasir Ris and Bedok are part of the scheme. A referral from them is worth a $50 discount off the $100 emergency department fee.
Dr Muhammad Iqmal Abdullah, whose clinic at Bedok Central sees a fair number of factory workers, said companies tend to send their workers straight to CGH following an industrial accident.
But neighbourhood clinics can deal with small injuries, he noted.
"When it comes to small cuts, a GP can deal with it easily. We don't even need to suture it anymore, we just use glue," he said.
Mr T.K. Udairam, head of the Eastern Health Alliance (EHA) to which CGH belongs, said about a third to half of the patients turning up at the emergency department are classified as P3 - which means they can easily be treated by a GP.
He added that the scheme removes a perceived disincentive to patients who now feel it is cheaper to go straight to hospital. They think that by seeing a GP first, they end up paying both the GP and the hospital, he noted.
Dr Lee Chien Earn, CGH's chief executive officer, said it might prove cheaper for patients to see a GP, as most can be treated there and need not go to hospital. They will also have a shorter wait.
At CGH, non-critical patients can easily wait four hours or more for treatment.
And if they truly need hospital treatment, a referral from a participating doctor will give them priority, said Dr Lee.