Clinics now offer more help for patients with chronic ailments

Nurse counsellor Serene Ang explaining to Dr Lam Pin Min the diabetic foot screening using a neurothesiometer being performed on Madam Chng Kah Sing, 57, at Mutual Healthcare Medical Clinic yesterday.
Nurse counsellor Serene Ang explaining to Dr Lam Pin Min the diabetic foot screening using a neurothesiometer being performed on Madam Chng Kah Sing, 57, at Mutual Healthcare Medical Clinic yesterday.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Patients with chronic illnesses will receive more comprehensive treatments with the setting up of new networks that will see private clinics offer additional services, such as counselling by nurses and health screening.

Starting this month, 340 private clinics have been grouped into 10 primary care networks (PCNs) islandwide. Of these, eight are new networks.

Under the system, general practitioners (GPs) in a network can pool their resources to offer extra services, such as diabetic eye and foot screening, which they could not provide owing to high costs.

A full-time nurse counsellor would also be out of the question for a small clinic, said Dr Wong Tien Hua, who runs Mutual Healthcare Medical Clinic in Sengkang.

"We're not a hospital, we don't have such resources. But with the scheme, we can share these resources with other GPs who are not even our business partners," Dr Wong added.

The PCN scheme was started as a ground-up initiative by Frontier Healthcare in 2012. It is part of a broader strategy by the Ministry of Health to shift care from the hospital to the community by letting patients receive effective care closer to home.

The new networks join two existing ones run by Frontier Healthcare Group and National University Health System.

A budget of $225 million has been set aside by the ministry to support the scheme for the next five years.

Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said yesterday that his ministry had plans to expand the scheme since the first network was piloted in 2012.

The 10 PCNs account for fewer than 25 per cent of all GPs.

"If we can reach 25 per cent of GP clinics, that will be a very good result," said Dr Lam, during a visit to Mutual Healthcare Medical Clinic, which is part of the Frontier PCN.

Each clinic in a PCN gets a visit from a nurse counsellor every three to four weeks by appointment, said Dr Wong.

Three nurse counsellors rotate among the various PCNs.

One of them is Ms Serene Ang, who has been in the scheme for the past two years. She said that apart from advising patients on lifestyle changes to improve their health, she also calls them before their yearly foot screenings and eye check-ups.

The information is available in a chronic disease registry kept by each clinic in the network.

Mr Chong Chan Chai, who lives in Sengkang, has been visiting the Mutual Healthcare clinic since he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2016.

Said the 46-year-old IT manager: "I live across the road, just 100m away. Every month, I come here to collect my medicine and check my scans. It's definitely easier and more convenient."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2018, with the headline 'Clinics now offer more help for patients with chronic ailments'. Print Edition | Subscribe