Why It Matters

Serving an Ace for healthcare

Medical treatments are continuously evolving as new drugs and procedures hit the market, so much so that it becomes impossible for doctors to always know what the best and most cost-effective treatments are for their patients.

As Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH), said: "It's not always the case that paying a lot of money gets you the best."

Some doctors just stick to the tried and tested. But that could mean patients might not benefit from treatments that could be cheaper or more effective.

The guidance released by the Agency for Care Effectiveness (Ace) this month - the first of more to come - is hence an important move to keep healthcare in Singapore the best it can be.

This is because the high-level team studies what is available, and not just looks at whether the drugs are effective but also compares them to what else is available and assesses their value relative to the incremental benefits they offer.

Take the guidance on diabetes, a major problem here. The recommended drug, which is now subsidised, perhaps costs 10 cents more than another that is more commonly used. But this slightly more expensive one gives noticeably better results.

So while the Government may pay more in providing this drug, tens of thousands of patients will be able to control their diabetes better if their doctors switch them to this drug.

And the benefits are not solely for subsidised patients. Doctors in private practice should also take advantage of the work done by the Ace team to provide more effective treatment. The guidance gives the reasoning and the data to back up the team's decisions, so doctors are not asked to accept Ace's decisions on blind faith.

Ace plans to issue new guidance three times a year. It started with just 11 drugs but the list will grow over time, providing a valuable resource for doctors and patients.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Serving an Ace for healthcare'. Print Edition | Subscribe