Even as Singapore expands its ability to handle a rising number of heart patients, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Thursday stressed that prevention is better than cure. Lifestyle changes can alleviate many of the risk factors associated with heart disease - the second highest cause of death here, said the Minister in his speech at the 23rd Annual Congress for the Association of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons of Asia.
"With risk factors such as increasingly sedentary lifestyles, tobacco use and poor diet choices, we can expect cardiovascular related diseases to continue as a major health burden," he explained. But healthy living along with regular screening can help to keep a lid on the problem.
"As physicians, you play a pivotal role in encouraging your patients to lead a healthy lifestyle from young," he told the 700 delegates from more than 50 countries attending the four-day congress at Raffles City.
It was a point Mr Gan reiterated when speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the event. "Keeping ourselves healthy will improve the quality of life through preventing, and delaying the onset of chronic diseases and slowing down their progression," he said.
Referring to his recent trip to Japan, he noted how the Japanese government is encouraging "the elderly to stay active and healthy so that they can remain independent longer and be able to do more of the things that they enjoy".
Still, a big increase in heart patients is expected as Singapore ages, which is why a new $266 million, 12-storey building to house the National Heart Centre is set to open early next year, doubling the number of clinics and adding three operating theatres and three laboratories. More heart specialists are also being trained and expected to join the profession in the next few years.
The next challenge, said Mr Gan, is "to push for innovations" in heart disease care that are "patient-centred and safe". He highlighted two new technologies which lead to faster recovery and fewer days in intensive care - robotic surgery and minimally invasive procedures .
But Mr Gan also cautioned: "Technologies must be rigorously evaluated, based on evidence and peer review, to ensure that they are safe, appropriate and effective for the patients."
They must also be cost effective to ensure that they can be sustained over years.
Dr Tong Meng Chuan, chairman of the four-day congress' organising committee, admitted that finding a balance between costs and results for patients is a key challenge.
"In the past 10 years, less invasive procedures have gradually been established as viable options..." he said. "However, whether these new methods can provide patients with satisfactory cost-beneficial results as compared to the conventional methods are the areas of controversies and further clinical trials."