More GPs to get on primary care scheme

Dr Lee Yik Voon, 54, in discussion with nurse See Chue Win (centre), 33, and care coordinator Landy Lee, 24, yesterday. Dr Lee has been part of the primary care network since late 2015. From next month, GPs will be able to apply to join such a networ
Dr Lee Yik Voon, 54, in discussion with nurse See Chue Win (centre), 33, and care coordinator Landy Lee, 24, yesterday. Dr Lee has been part of the primary care network since late 2015. From next month, GPs will be able to apply to join such a network, and get funding to care for patients with complex chronic conditions.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Those who rely on their general practitioners for help with chronic ailments will get better care in the years to come with the Health Ministry's expanded primary care network scheme.

These virtual groupings allow individual doctors to pool resources - offering services like nurse counselling and diabetic eye screening which they would not be able to provide on their own.

The first such network was set up as a pilot scheme in 2012 by the Frontier Healthcare Group, and has shown "promising results", Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said yesterday.

From next month, GPs will be able to apply to join such a network. They will also be able to get funding to care for patients with complex chronic conditions.

"Primary care is the bedrock of our healthcare system, and the key to enabling the shift to bring healthcare beyond hospitals into the community," Dr Lam said.

"Currently, only 20 per cent of our primary care attendances are in polyclinics; the remainder are with private GPs."

He said patients with chronic medical conditions - such as diabetes and high blood pressure - now make up 27 per cent of the total seen by primary care doctors, up from 18 per cent in 2010.

Frontier Healthcare's network started with nine clinics and now has 31. Dr Chong Chin Kwang, its director, said nurse counsellors move between clinics, giving patients detailed advice on coping with complex conditions. They also help doctors set up a chronic disease registry to give them a bird's-eye view of how their chronic patients are being managed.

Having nurse counsellors stationed at his clinic has eased the load on Dr Lee Yik Voon, who joined the Frontier network in late 2015.

"With chronic cases, you need a lot more time - you need to give them proper advice on what to eat and so on," he said.

Mr Mohamad Sahat, 71, a diabetic who has been going to the same Frontier GP clinic in Buangkok for a decade, said he has been going for regular diabetes check-ups ever since mobile screening buses began showing up outside the clinic several years ago.

"It's very convenient that way; I've been going for the eye checks and leg checks for a few years now," said the taxi driver.

Dr Lam added that the ministry will continue to upgrade the rest of the primary care infrastructure. This includes the opening of two family medicine clinics in Tampines and Keat Hong, and two polyclinics in Pioneer and Punggol.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 10, 2017, with the headline 'More GPs to get on primary care scheme'. Print Edition | Subscribe