Need to build tomorrow’s healthcare system today

By September 20, 2017Current

TL;DR – We need to transform our healthcare system.

Singapore’s population is ageing. Longevity is supposed to be a good thing. But not if we spend our later years in ill-health.

As PM Lee mentioned in his National Day Rally (NDR) speech, on average, Singaporeans experience 8 years of ill-health. Given that the average life span of Singaporeans is 82, that means that we spend about 10% of our lives in ill-health. That’s quite significant.

So, if we continue to spend the same proportion of our lives in ill-health, and if we continue to live longer, it means that we will be experiencing more years in ill-health. With that, our expenditure on healthcare will likely go up.

As it is, our healthcare budget has been growing. For the financial year of 2013, our healthcare expenditure is 1.6% of our GDP. For FY2015, it has grown to 2.1% of our GDP. If we continue with this trend, our healthcare expenditure may reach 3.5% of our GDP by 2030.

But money aside, do we really to spend a decade in ill-health?

That’s not a terribly good way to spend a decade.

And imagine the emotional strain that puts on our family members. Put together, the case is clear for transforming our healthcare. To that end, the government will set up the Office of Healthcare Transformation (OHT) in MOH on 1 January 2018.

The Office will focus on three areas.

1. Prevention is better than cure

Much of our healthcare expenditure today goes to treating diseases and health conditions. But prevention is better than cure. It is far cheaper to prevent people from getting ill than to spend money to treat them when they are ill. As such, the OHT will look at new ways to help Singaporeans adopt health-promoting behaviours that will prevent or delay the onset of chronic conditions.

2. Reduce time spent in hospitals

Actually, it’s not realistic to want to prevent all illness. No matter how hard we try, there will still be people who will fall ill. Even if we get everything right, there will still be Singaporeans who will contract chronic diseases. Currently, most of these Singaporeans will have to spend much time in hospitals. This is an emotional and financial strain on family members.

That’s one of the key work of the OHT is to work with primary care providers to make home-based management a viable and effective care model, and in the longer term, the preferred choice, for patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and high blood cholesterol.

3. Holistic care

It’s quite common that the elderly suffer from multiple medical conditions. When such patients are hospitalised for treatment, they are often looked after by several specialists, which could result in fragmentation of care. The OHT will work with hospitals to explore new approaches to provide them more holistic inpatient care.

Who’ll lead the OHT?

The work of the OHT will be extremely important. If we can reduce the proportion of our lives we spend being ill, that will drastically improve our well-being, and reduce the strain we put on our family and our nation’s resources. Given the importance of its work, it’s vital that to get someone brilliant to lead it.

The heavy responsibility of leading the OHT will fall upon the hefty shoulders of Prof Tan Chorh Chuan.

Prof Tan is the outgoing president of the National University of Singapore. More importantly, he was the Director of Medical Services (DMS) of MOH from 2000 to 2004.

As the DMS, he led the public health response during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic. Under Prof Tan’s leadership, we were able to respond efficiently and effectively to the SARS crisis. So robust was our response that the World Health Organisation praised our response as exemplary.

Given his credentials, we are optimistic that Prof Tan will lead the OHT to successfully transform our healthcare system for the benefit of Singaporeans and Singapore.

(Featured image via AsianScientist)


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Jake Koh

Author Jake Koh

Recovering sushi addict, I'm a man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery.

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