GP clinics in S'pore see surge in patients as daily Covid-19 cases climb

People waiting outside Crossroads Family Clinic in Tampines on Sept 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - General practitioner (GP) clinics and private medical providers that perform swab tests have been seeing a surge in patients amid record-high Covid-19 community cases in recent days.

The patients include those who have tested positive for the virus on their self-administered antigen rapid tests (ART), patients with fever or mild acute respiratory infection symptoms, and those who have received health risk warnings or alerts from the Ministry of Health (MOH) for being at risk of infection.

For a month now, Crossroads Family Clinic in Tampines has been seeing more patients, an increase of at least 50 per cent, said the clinic's director and family physician, Dr Quah Soon Wee.

He added that there has been a surge in positive cases detected by the clinic since one week ago, consistent with the rise in local community cases.

Healthway Medical Group's GP clinics are seeing a steady increase in the number of patients who have received health risk warnings or alerts, said its head of primary care, Dr John Cheng.

At Northeast Medical Group's clinics, patients with fever or upper respiratory-related infections have risen by 20 per cent over the past two weeks, said its chief executive, Dr Tan Teck Jack.

The surge in patients comes as the number of local cases hit more than 1,000 daily on Saturday (Sept 18) and Sunday before dropping slightly to 910 cases on Monday. Since Sept 9, when 450 local cases were recorded, the number of infections has been rising sharply.

MOH had earlier urged patients with mild acute respiratory infection symptoms to avoid seeking treatment at hospitals and instead go to Swab and Send Home clinics.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post on Sunday that hospitals' emergency departments and general wards are coming under pressure.

To cope with the increase in patients and prevent crowding in the clinics, doctors are urging patients who need to be swabbed to call the clinics in advance.

Dr Quah said: "My advice is this: If your family member is confirmed to have Covid-19 and you are showing symptoms, or your ART is positive, it is the responsible thing to give the clinic a call in advance so that the clinic can advise on the best time to head down, when there are fewer or no patients."

To prevent any spread within the clinics, patients who tested positive in their self-administered ART are given priority, said the GPs.

People at the Northeast Medical Clinic in Simei on Sept 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

At Northeast Medical's branches, some regular patients such as those with chronic diseases do not need to stay long during this period, as they only need to top up their medications with the doctor's approval, said Dr Tan.

Raffles Medical has been coping with the surge in patients by redeploying doctors, nurses, swabbers and patient service associates from less busy clinics to busier ones, said its family physician, Dr Jason Soh.

"Raffles Medical has also advised patients to avoid the peak periods such as during lunch or dinner time. Appointments are made for patients to come back another day for non-urgent medical cases," added Dr Soh.

As part of established infection control protocol, all clinics have been triaging and separating patients who need a swab test from other patients.

Despite being busier than usual in recent weeks, the doctors and staff are taking things in their stride.

Parkway Shenton's medical director Edwin Chng said: "We work extra hard and sometimes beyond the clinics' operating hours and into the staff's lunch hours. As we run walk-in GP clinics, we cannot turn patients away."

Dr Lee Joon Loong, medical director of Paddington Medical Clinic in Bedok, said: "It has been challenging. Even after clinic operating hours, patients still call the clinic and we still attend to them."

People at the Northeast Medical Clinic in Simei on Sept 21, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

GPs also have to manage the anxieties of patients who tested positive in their ART and went to the clinics to get their confirmatory polymerase chain reaction swab tests.

By this week, seven in 10 Covid-19 patients would be recovering at home.

From last Saturday, the home recovery scheme was expanded to those aged between 12 and 69, who are fully vaccinated and do not have severe comorbidities or illnesses, among other requirements.

Dr Tan said: "We check if (patients) meet the criteria for home recovery before they are given sufficient medication, we brief them on the process and notify MOH. An external agency will visit the patient to serve a notice to stay home and hand over some health monitoring devices."

Most of the patients who tested positive are worried about putting their loved ones and close contacts at risk, said the GPs.

Dr Lee said: "Our medical team knows and understands the anxieties of being tested positive in an ART, and that is why even if the clinic is closed, we still try to answer calls from all patients... We have been receiving more inquiries and clarifications from patients on what to do."

Dr Quah added: "Most are concerned about the repercussions for their family members... I will emphasise the need to strictly self-isolate in a room with an attached toilet, and not mingle with family members."

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