SINGAPORE - Patients will be able to tap their Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) cards and Medisave to pay for video consultations for a number of chronic conditions, starting April 3.
It is being introduced to promote safe distancing amid the worsening Covid-19 outbreak, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday (March 31).
Currently, Chas subsidy and Medisave are available only for physical consultations.
The temporary extension of the scheme to cover video consultation for some conditions will continue until the deactivation of the Public Health Preparedness Clinic (PHPC) scheme, or as otherwise determined by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force combating the spread of the coronavirus here, said: "As the virus spreads across the world, there is now strong evidence that safe distancing is a very important measure to stop and slow down the transmission."
As such, MOH will let patients use Chas and Medisave to pay for the follow-ups of seven chronic conditions through video consultations, he said.
The chronic conditions are: diabetes, hypertension, lipid disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and anxiety.
"This will allow patients whose conditions are stable to use video consultations and avoid physical visits to clinic at this period of time," Mr Gan added.
Chas enables all Singapore citizens to receive subsidies for medical and/or dental care at participating general practitioner and dental clinics.
For patients with chronic conditions, it complements the Chronic Disease Management Programme, which allows for Medisave to be used for outpatient treatment for the same set of chronic conditions covered under Chas.
MOH said patients seeking treatment for at least one of the seven listed conditions account for a high proportion of patients who use Chas and Medisave for chronic treatments.
"Patients with these conditions can generally be managed through video consultations without physical examination if these conditions are stable," the ministry said.
It added that doctors who wish to provide video consultations that can be paid using Chas subsidies and Medisave will be required to undergo telemedicine e-training to familiarise themselves with the best practices.
MOH said that doctors should carry out video consultations only for patients that they had physical consultations with previously, so that they can assess whether the patients are suitable for virtual consultations.
"Whenever it is assessed to be necessary, such as when a physical examination is required, the provider should ask the patient to come into the clinic for a physical consultation," added MOH.
On Tuesday at the multi-ministry task force's press conference, Health Minister Mr Gan emphasised the importance of the safe distancing in all other settings.
He was speaking at a press conference live streamed to participating reporters - the first time the briefing has been held this way.
Prior briefings had been conducted in person, with speakers and reporters sitting at least 1m apart from each other.
Mr Gan said the revised format for the conference is an example of safe distancing, urging Singaporeans to adhere to safe distancing measures.
He acknowledged that the measures introduced so far - such as limiting the number of people in shopping malls and requiring people to sit apart at hawker centres - are onerous, but are necessary to keep Singapore safe.
However, he said he is concerned that many still have not listened to the advice and carried on with activities such as shopping.
"Safe distancing measures can save lives... So I urge all Singaporeans to take safe distancing seriously to protect Singapore," added Mr Gan.