SINGAPORE - The Healthier SG programme - which aims to get general practitioners (GPs) more involved in preventive care - will likely start with patients aged 60 and above from next year before expanding to other age groups, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
The ministry is also looking at how to make chronic medication costs at GP clinics more comparable with polyclinics, as older residents prefer to see their regular GPs but find it more affordable to get their necessary medication, such as for high cholesterol and diabetes, from polyclinics.
This comes after it engaged more than 6,000 residents and other key stakeholders, including 1,000 healthcare professionals, for their views on Healthier SG.
On Saturday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the programme will serve about a million residents for a start, and provide enough time for family doctors to ramp up their capacity and enrol residents gradually.
“The doctors have discussed (it) and felt that it is best to go for those 60 and above because they are most likely to have onset of chronic illness or already have chronic illness, so we want to make sure that the care goes out (to them first),” Mr Ong told reporters at a charity walk organised by Blossom Seeds.
The MOH engagements found that about two in three residents support the idea of having a regular family doctor, who will have an overview of their medical needs.
Mr Ong said another key takeaway is the need for personal choice, as some residents worry that they will not be able to go to different doctors when they need to.
Some flexibility will, therefore, be allowed for individuals to change doctors when they need to, he added.
GPs said they are supportive of Healthier SG - which they believe will benefit residents - but raised concerns on the workflows for clinical care and support for information technology (IT), according to MOH. They also want to focus on patient care instead of time spent entering data or dealing with IT problems, the ministry added.
As part of the Healthier SG programme, MOH said during its budget announcement that it will provide better data support for family physicians, such as granting access to patients' medical records to track their conditions over time.
Mr Ong said there may be some hiccups when the Healthier SG is first rolled out to those aged 60 and above but assured that his ministry will address them.
"I hope shortly after, hopefully not more than a year, we can go up to the next million people - which are those aged 40 to 59," he added.
The programme marks a nationwide shift away from the traditional emphasis on illness-based hospital care and towards a focus on preventive care that will nip diseases in the bud.
The aim is to keep a lid on rising healthcare costs by tackling the problem early, and keeping people healthy for longer so they will need less medical care.
The feedback gathered will be studied to develop MOH's proposals for Healthier SG. The recommendations will be released in a White Paper on Healthier SG to be tabled in Parliament next month.
The findings also revealed that about three in four residents are supportive of a health plan that captures their medical status, goals and follow-up actions.
MOH said it will include in its proposals key features that residents would like in their plan, such as regular screenings for early detection of health issues and regular consultations to manage existing chronic conditions.
Mr Ong said many residents hope that health screenings could be cheaper or even free. Most people also welcomed the idea for GPs to work with the community to come up with activities to get residents to lead a healthier life, he noted.
Dr Kenneth Tan, a family physician, said: “With the increased costs of living, many patients are eager for relief with their medical costs.”
Dr Tan, who runs Kenneth Tan Medical Clinic in Punggol, added that the delivery of more care components by GPs will require more reimbursement claims and a constant updating of records.
But he believes these issues will be addressed as MOH works to improve the systems.
On Saturday morning, more than 1,000 people turned up for Blossom Seeds’ charity walk in Sembawang. Its chief executive, Ms Ong Siew Chin, said the event was launched to encourage active ageing among seniors and their families.