Going digital is inevitable but many GPs face challenges and need support

Many GPs are keen to adopt technology but some doctors and patients have concerns about maintaining confidentiality.
Many GPs are keen to adopt technology but some doctors and patients have concerns about maintaining confidentiality.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Many general practitioners (GPs) know that they need to move with the times, but going digital comes with challenges such as cyber security and the need to upgrade IT systems and skills.

GPs need support and guidance in their digitalisation journey, said Frontier Healthcare Group chief executive Tham Tat Yean, who spoke at a panel discussion at the virtual HealthTech X conference on Tuesday (Oct 12).

For instance, many GPs have underdeveloped IT systems. Many doctors still rely on printed letters or faxes when referring a patient to a specialist, he said.

"Hopefully, these examples can be addressed with education and awareness on how medical information is stored, accessed and secured," he told The Straits Times.

Many GPs, especially the younger ones, are keen to adopt technology but some doctors and patients have concerns about maintaining confidentiality when information is digitised.

"Patients may worry about leakage of their private confidential medical information and may question the need for the info to be made available in the cloud," Dr Tham added.

Past such speed bumps, there is significant upside to digitalisation for GPs.

For instance, being able to tap a database of clinically useful information can help them manage the patients' conditions better, Dr Tham said.

Giving GPs shared access to appointment and referral systems would also help when they refer their patients to specialists and other healthcare providers such as radiologists, so that they know who else is providing care to the patient.

"Ultimately, the goal is to preserve the well-being of the population, prevent diseases, identify risk factors early, treat chronic diseases and reduce complications," he said.

This will be increasingly relevant as GPs and the polyclinics provide personalised care and continuing care over a long period.

As Singapore's population ages, it is likely that the government will want to help primary care or GPs to take on a greater role, as it would not be sustainable to keep on building hospitals, said Dr Tham.

Earlier, at the event, Dr Tham said that GPs can expand their role to also look after the mental well-being of their patients, for instance.

The cost of tech systems and other digital tools can be a barrier for doctors with a one-man practice, said Dr Quek Koh Choon, a GP.

Older doctors who are less familiar with IT and computers will find it more challenging as well, he said, adding that this may be managed with help from staff with know-how.