The Ministry of Health (MOH) unveiled the Healthcare 2020 Masterplan in March 2017 spelling out the strategic objectives of enhancing the accessibility, affordability and quality of healthcare services in the country. The government’s increased emphasis on the healthcare industry can be explained by the ageing population, the nation’s limited resources, rising incidences of chronic diseases, and the rising cost of healthcare in Singapore.
The Government aims to bolster the number of healthcare professionals by 30,000 in order to provide care for 610,000 elderly citizens by 2020. Additionally, six polyclinics and two hospitals are slated to open by 2020 and a dozen more are in the pipeline.
While the increase in healthcare professionals and infrastructures boosts the capacity and accessibility of healthcare in Singapore, the bigger question that we face would be how can we create a sustainable healthcare ecosystem to keep medical costs affordable, instil citizen-based healthcare and harness the power of technology.
We believe that a sustainable healthcare ecosystem hinges on three pillars, namely:
- Provision of preventive healthcare rather than focusing on reactive healthcare
- Deliver cost-effective, high-quality healthcare services
- Establishing a community-based healthcare sphere
Hospitals and polyclinics focus primarily on reactive healthcare and are a vital cog in the healthcare system. However, hospitals and polyclinics are perpetually bogged down by the number of daily cases. The creation of more medical institutes does alleviate the workload but is more of a means to an end rather than an end in itself. On the back of an increasing population size, from 5.6 million in 2017 to 6.9 million by 2030, the number of new hospitals would still not solve the healthcare crunch. Hence, preventive healthcare is one of the pillars that would build a sustainable healthcare ecosystem. Preventive healthcare includes major disease control methods like the early identification of disease clusters (i.e. dengue, malaria, etc.) using big data analytics. The source of such clusters can be then accurately identified and neutralized. Critical illnesses can also be managed through the formation of dedicated special task force who can assist to combat critical illnesses by espousing early preventive measures amongst the citizens.
Cost-effective yet high-quality healthcare delivery
By harnessing powerful technologies, healthcare delivery can be greatly enhanced with reduction in costs. Researchers have been exploring the use of robotics in surgical procedures. In September 2017, a dental implant operation conducted in China was completed successfully by a robot without any input from humans1. This is a milestone in robotics and proved that advanced robotics might be able to handle complex operations reliably and inexpensively.
Digitalizing medical records and having them reside on integrated and connected care systems would potentially reduce the gap between healthcare providers and patients. With a connected national healthcare database between hospitals, polyclinics and GPs, doctors will be able to assess their patients and administer care more accurately and quickly. This increases the productivity and effectiveness of healthcare providers.
The inclusion of enterprise resource planning will also play a huge role in inventory optimisation and cost reduction in supply chains. The risk of obsolete or expired drugs can be eliminated and healthcare providers will be able to reduce wastage.
Lastly, technology along with redesigned workflows can help healthcare givers focus their time and energy on patients. With higher quality healthcare and reduced cost, the goals of a sustainable healthcare industry model will be within reach.
The rising trend of gamification and M-health (mobile health) technologies boosts citizenship engagement and involvement in preventive care. With the proliferation of fitness trackers and the success of the ‘National Steps Challenge’ by the Health Promotion Board in 20162, citizens have started to take ownership of their fitness. To complement this, first aid training courses can be provided to all citizens and a network of home-based nurses in neighbourhoods can be established. The government also intends to develop a “Health Marketplace” – an online community platform that links patients and caregivers to home-care services and supplies.
To achieve the strategic goals of Healthcare 2020, a sustainable healthcare ecosystem makes economic sense, reduces the strain on the population and healthcare providers and increases the standard of living in Singapore.
The content above was first shared by Partner Tay Woon Teck at the Singapore Healthcare Supply Chain Management Congress 2017.