Polyclinic visits grow by 20% over three years

Three chronic health conditions - including diabetes and high cholesterol - account for over a third of diagnoses

Polyclinic visits grew by one million between 2015 and last year, with chronic conditions such as diabetes topping the list of commonly seen ailments.

Last year's 5.93 million polyclinic attendances marked a 20 per cent increase from the 4.87 million in 2015.

Three chronic medical conditions - high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure-related ailments - accounted for more than a third of diagnoses.

During his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined the Government's plans to build new polyclinics and refurbish existing ones as part of efforts to keep quality primary care affordable and accessible. He also announced that the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) will be extended to all Singaporeans with chronic conditions, regardless of income.

The current scheme subsidises medical and dental treatment for lower-and middle-income households, as well as seniors from the Pioneer Generation.

Dr Loke Wai Chiong, healthcare sector leader at Deloitte South-east Asia, said that although Singapore's ageing population plays a role in driving up polyclinic attendance numbers, there are other factors at play.

A wheelchair tilter that helps patients in need of dental care at Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic. Many polyclinics, like the one in Ang Mo Kio which officially reopened in June, are being refurbished to meet the needs of the ageing population.
A wheelchair tilter that helps patients in need of dental care at Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic. Many polyclinics, like the one in Ang Mo Kio which officially reopened in June, are being refurbished to meet the needs of the ageing population. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

These include the rise in chronic diseases here, and government subsidies and schemes which make primary care at public healthcare institutions more affordable.

"As Singaporeans age, they are at considerable risk of chronic diseases which require repeated and regular doctor consultations, and often lifelong medication," noted Dr Loke.

Polyclinics are also more affordable and convenient, he said.

Dr John Cheng, who heads primary care at private GP chain Healthway Medical, added that the number of Chas cardholders seeking treatment for both acute and chronic conditions has "increased steadily" since 2015.

"Chas subsidies have certainly helped patients to ease the burden of healthcare costs," the family physician said.

These sentiments were echoed by Jalan Besar GRC MP Lily Neo, who is a general practitioner.

In the past, said Dr Neo, many patients would be reluctant to seek treatment or would skip medication to save money. Now, those on the Chas scheme are more likely to seek treatment early.

 
 
 

If left untreated, she added, chronic conditions such as diabetes could lead to severe complications such as blindness or kidney failure.

Dr Neo added that expanding Chas to all Singaporeans regardless of income level will help.

"I personally am a believer that prevention is better than cure," said Dr Neo. "Expanding Chas will encourage people to seek treatment early."

 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 21, 2018, with the headline 'Polyclinic visits grow by 20% over three years'. Print Edition | Subscribe