Health Ministry seeks feedback on plans to keep Singapore healthier

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung speaking to patients during his visit to an Everton Park clinic on May 18, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - Why do some people doctor-hop while others stick with the same family physician for years? And what makes a patient more likely to take a doctor's medical advice?

These are questions the Health Ministry (MOH) hopes to find answers to through a series of public consultations on its new Healthier SG strategy, which aims to get general practitioners more involved in preventive care.

Five in-person sessions will take place between May 26 and June 15, with the public also able to give feedback online.

The consultation exercise will end on Aug 15, with the findings to feed into a White Paper that will be tabled in Parliament for debate later this year.

"In a nutshell, we want to find out why do residents not go to one doctor. That is what we really wish everyone would do," said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on the sidelines of a visit to A Medical Clinic on Wednesday (May 18).

"Number two: If you stick to a doctor, and the doctor gives you a care plan to help you stay healthy, what are the things you wish to see in that care plan? What are the things we can do, to encourage you to stay with the care plan and don't give up?"

Apart from ordinary Singaporeans, his ministry has also sought feedback from general practitioners and representatives from the country's three healthcare clusters.

It will also be working with intermediate and long-term care providers - such as nursing homes - and community organisations on the topic.

The Healthier SG strategy was first unveiled in March, during the debate on MOH's budget. It marks a nationwide shift away from the traditional emphasis on illness-based hospital care, and towards a focus on preventive care that will nip diseases in the bud.

The underlying aim is to keep a lid on rising healthcare costs by tackling the problem at its roots, keeping people healthy for longer so they will need less medical care.

For patients, having one regular, trusted doctor who tracks their health and offers personalised medical advice is a key part of this strategy.

Mr Ong said his ministry has already garnered the views of thousands of general practitioners through online townhall meetings.

Some pointed out that drug prices at polyclinics tend to be cheaper than what private GPs are able to secure, while others said clinic IT systems need improvement. Third-party administrators - companies that typically act as middlemen between employers and clinics for a fee - were another point of contention, he said.

Solving these issues will require spending money in the short term, which should be seen as an investment to achieve the country's longer-term goals, Mr Ong added.

"We should invest in preventive care, even if it means spending some money on IT systems and considering how we level the drug subsidies between polyclinics and other clinics," he said.

"And these are things that we should do, in order to reduce the pain, suffering and costs in the future."

During his visit to the Everton Park clinic, Mr Ong spoke with medical director Adjunct Assistant Professor Lim Hong Shen and several of his regular patients.

One of them was Madam Setoh Hong Lian, who said she had been going to see Dr Lim since his clinic opened three years ago. He helps her manage various medical conditions, including diabetes, asthma and high cholesterol.

"He's a very good and caring doctor," said the 72-year-old in Mandarin. "When I got Covid and couldn't leave the house, he came to my house to give me insulin injections. His staff also brought me food."

Madam Setoh Hong Lian has been going to see Dr Lim Hong Shen since his clinic opened three years ago. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Dr Lim stressed the importance of building trust with patients and communicating the importance of preventive care.

"Do you come to us so that you can continue to remain well? Or do you only come to us when you're sick? I think there will always be a mix," he said.

To broach the issue of preventive care, Dr Lim added that he weaves topics such as yearly flu vaccinations or health screenings into his regular consultations.

"Fundamentally, we are driven by the passion to make a change - whether it's one patient at a time, or many patients at a time - to influence their care and help them be healthier at the end of the day."

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