At Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), volunteers have been taking some of the load off healthcare staff amid a manpower crunch.
From April to June, seven volunteers helped out at the hospital's eye clinic, giving patients pointers for their visual field tests, recording their glaucoma eye-drop schedule and demonstrating the correct way to apply eye drops.
The volunteers, aged 50 to 76, are part of a pilot programme to improve patient experience.
Other pilot volunteer programmes by TTSH are the Hospital Elder Life Programme and the Inpatient Total Knee Replacement Volunteer Programme.
The three volunteer programmes come under TTSH's Centre for Health Activation, which was launched yesterday by the Ministry of Health's Second Permanent Secretary Ng How Yue.
The centre is a training and research institute which aims to train volunteers to work in para-clinical areas alongside healthcare staff, as well as empower patients and caregivers to support other patients.
At the eye clinic, the volunteers have also helped to address issues that have sometimes been overlooked due to the busy schedules of healthcare professionals, said Dr Owen Hee, the programme lead and a consultant at TTSH's ophthalmology department.
For instance, up to 78 per cent of 110 patients at the eye clinic were found to be applying eye drops incorrectly. The eye clinic sees 140,000 patients every year.
The volunteers also assist in registration, orientation and identifying patients with fall risks - tasks usually done by patient service associates. They typically volunteer for two to three hours, several times a week.
Feedback from patients has been encouraging, with 93 per cent of the 110 polled welcoming the volunteers' involvement.
Glaucoma patient Steven Wong, 76, finds the volunteers "very helpful". "Most of them are very well versed in the information they are sharing," said the retired union executive.
The volunteers were either recruited or selected from TTSH's 700-strong volunteer pool.
They had to be assessed on their competency, such as whether they asked patients appropriate questions and whether they were able to ask follow-up questions, said Dr Yeo Wee-Lee, a senior consultant at TTSH's medical oncology department and clinical head for the Centre for Health Activation.
The volunteers underwent training before the pilot began.
A framework for accountability is being developed, Dr Yeo added.
Volunteer Molly Lim, 65, finds fulfilment in advising patients on how to apply eye drops and recording their glaucoma eye-drop schedule.
Said the retired senior assistant director of human resources: "I learn (from volunteering) and I also want to educate people... (about) their own health."
The second phase of the pilot at the eye clinic starts next month.
Other public hospitals here are also expanding volunteers' roles.
Changi General Hospital's volunteers are being trained to play more active roles at the accident and emergency department, such as providing translation.
Meanwhile, the National University Hospital is recruiting volunteers to help patients with basic translation during consultations at its eye clinics, besides helping to orientate patients and looking out for their general safety.