SINGAPORE - Ang Mo Kio residents are now able to access specialist care in their neighbourhood with the launch of a centre run by Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).
The facility in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8 will more heavily involve polyclinics and general practitioners in managing residents' health, in line with the recently announced Healthier SG strategy that shifts from a hospital-centric to a more sustainable preventive care model.
At the opening ceremony on Friday (March 18), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the TTSH Ang Mo Kio Specialist Centre brings a suite of specialist healthcare facilities and services right to the doorsteps of residents and aims to offer continuity of care.
Previously, an elderly resident in Ang Mo Kio suffering from blurred vision would have been referred to TTSH for testing, consultation, treatment and follow-up.
"With this new centre, he can now obtain medical treatment, cataract surgery and post-surgery reviews right in his neighbourhood," said Mr Lee.
This also applies to patients who require colonoscopy and gastroscopy procedures, or musculoskeletal rehabilitation, among others.
TTSH said key services from three of its clinics - diabetes care, specialist eye care and care for hearing-related issues - had been redesigned to make them more accessible, sustainable and appropriate to be delivered at the Ang Mo Kio centre.
Madam Low Hong Eng, 67, a retiree who did administrative work, now visits the centre for her diabetes care. It is closer to her home in Hougang compared with when she had to go to TTSH in Novena.
Her husband, Mr Lim Jit Suan, 73, is her main caregiver and accompanies her on all visits to the hospital or clinics.
At the Ang Mo Kio centre, the clinical diabetes educators advised her on the types of food that are good for her as well as those to avoid, said Mr Lim, a retired bank associate.
He added: "They also showed us new equipment that is hooked to her arm and with a meter, she could see her sugar level any time. This enabled her to monitor her diet and food consumption carefully."
The clinical diabetes educators are trained specially in diabetes care as well as patient education. This makes it possible for patients to better manage their condition with fewer consultations - from perhaps more than eight yearly hospital visits to three to five visits to the Ang Mo Kio centre, said TTSH.
Other improvements include the community eye clinic which allows for faster appointments, and a portable audiometry system that provides quicker access to testing, detection and intervention for hearing issues.
The centre will be manned by TTSH staff, some of whom will rotate between the Ang Mo Kio site and the hospital in Novena.
Apart from bringing specialist care to the heartland, the new centre also sees TTSH partnering GPs and polyclinics, allowing for direct referrals from GPs to the services offered at the facility.
The team at the centre will also keep the referring doctors updated on patients' progress before sending them back for continued care and overall health management.
Dr Lim Kim Show, a GP at Life Family Clinic in Ang Mo Kio, has referred his patients to the centre for integrated musculoskeletal therapy services - needed for conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome or osteoarthritis knee pain.
"Getting early intervention for such conditions makes a big difference in patients' recovery. This direct referral process can cut down waiting time by more than a month, which means they get treatment that much faster," he added. The waiting time is now two to three weeks.
GPs can also make direct referrals to the endoscopy team at the centre, which has facilities for basic diagnostic procedures like gastroscopy, that require day surgery.
The centre will also offer better social care. TTSH's community health team will work with the neighbourhood Silver Generation Office, the outreach arm of the Agency for Integrated Care, to identify and reach out to residents in need and plan community-based programmes such as wellness or health coaching.
Social factors have a big impact, said Mr Lee, adding: "Good health depends on more than having access to the best medical treatment."
He cited the case of Mr Soh, a new resident in Ang Mo Kio, who had been anxious about living in a new community with little family support.
The TTSH community health team coordinated his treatments and enrolled him in a senior daycare centre. They also roped in staff and nurses from nearby social service agencies to provide him with home nursing and medical support, and Silver Generation Office staff and volunteers who visit and assist with ad hoc tasks like housekeeping and buying groceries.
Mr Lee said the Government continually reviews its overall healthcare strategy and policies, builds new and better facilities, and staffs them with well-trained professionals.
Healthcare providers also constantly work on improving the level of care given to residents, he added.
"But residents, too, must play your part to keep yourself healthy," said Mr Lee.
He cited some worrying statistics that Health Minister Ong Ye Kung mentioned during the debate on his ministry's budget in Parliament.
For example, between 2017 and 2020, the proportion of Singaporeans with high blood pressure increased from about two in 10, to three in 10. The proportion of Singaporeans with high cholesterol rose from about three in 10 to four in 10.
Obesity rates went up from under 9 per cent to over 10 per cent.
Mr Lee said: "Unless we make progress on these... All the most expensive and advanced medical care in the world will not succeed in giving us more years of healthy life."
All Singaporeans must make the effort to go for regular health screenings, follow the advice of medical professionals, remain active, keep fit and watch what they eat, he added.
He said: "I know there is good food just around the corner. But please not too much, everything in moderation.
"That is how, even with an ageing population, we can help our healthcare system to ensure a sustainable and good healthcare for all Singaporeans."