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SINGAPORE — Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Wednesday (9 March) unveiled a new strategy aimed at expanding preventive care for residents across Singapore.
Called Healthier SG, the strategy comprises five key components spanning across the healthcare industry, community programmes, and related infrastructure, Ong said at the debate in Parliament on his ministry’s spending plans.
The first component is the mobilisation of a network of family doctors.
“Studies have shown that people who go to only one family doctor consistently, are generally healthier and have fewer hospitalisation and emergency department visits,” Ong said.
But only three in five Singaporeans have a regular family doctor while the rest tend to doctor-hop, according to Ong.
He cited the crucial role that general practitioners (GPs) play in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, such as advising people to vaccinate against the disease.
“Our COVID-19 response would have been inadequate, even crippled, if not for the contributions of family doctors.”
The authorities can leverage GPs to attend to more patients and devote time to provide preventive care, Ong said. MOH will boost the GP clinics’ capabilities, work with the GPs to develop the skills of their teams, and forge partnerships with hospitals.
The second component of Healthcare SG is healthcare plans for preventive care.
To support residents to follow through with care plans, MOH aims to make them “accessible, attractive, perhaps even rewarding”, Ong said. It will conduct wide-ranging consultations to work out proposals and incorporate them in the White Paper.
Ong said some of the ideas that have been raised include making preventive care consultations with family doctors and recommended health screenings free or charging them at a very nominal sum, claiming higher Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) benefits for drugs taken from the same doctor, and tapping on MediSave more for care plan.
The third thrust of the strategy is forging community partnerships with agencies such as Health Promotion Board, Agency for Integrated Care, People’s Association, SportSG, National Parks Board, and community partners that oversee various social services.
These agencies run various activities and programs in the community which family doctors can tap on, Ong said. He cited the example of a preventive care plan that involves a family doctor referring residents to a brisk walking interest group or a community gardening club.
The fourth component is a national Healthier SG enrolment programme.
“By enrolling into Healthier SG, a resident will commit to see one family doctor and adopt a care plan,” Ong said.
The enrolment programme will be coordinated by the three healthcare clusters. Each of them will look after a region of up to 1.5 million residents, and work with the family doctors and other partners in the region to broaden its resident reach.
The programme will likely start with people in their 40’s and above as that is when chronic illnesses may start to set in, Ong said.
The final component of Healthier SG is the necessary support structures to make it work.
MOH aims to expand its primary and community care workforce and build their competencies and skills.
Preventive care efforts in the community can be led by nurse clinicians and pharmacists, not just by doctors only, Ong said. “I foresee Healthier SG opening up many new job roles.”
The financing of healthcare clusters is currently based on workload, Ong said. This will change to a model where healthcare clusters get a pre-determined fee for every resident living in the region that they are overseeing. The basis of calculating their budgets will change, he added.
While appropriate surgeries, procedures and treatments will always be provided when needed, there will be a “natural incentive” for hospitals to try to keep residents healthy through preventive care.
The IT support structure will be revamped to ensure a good system and data support for family doctors. They must have access to patients’ medical records, the IT tools to track their patients’ conditions over time, and be able to share the records with other providers, Ong said.
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