SINGAPORE: Patients who visit their general practitioners for treatment of chronic ailments can expect better care with the expansion of the Ministry of Health's (MOH) Primary Care Network (PCN) scheme.
A total of 340 GP clinics are now part of the scheme, announced the ministry on Monday (Jan 15), with eight new networks joining the existing two.
The PCN scheme involves clinics organising themselves into networks that support holistic and team-based care. This means patients can visit these GP clinics for follow-up check-ups on their chronic conditions such as diabetes, and speak to nurses about how to care for their conditions.
These services, previously available only at polyclinics and hospitals, are important for good management of chronic conditions, said MOH.
Speaking at Mutual Healthcare Medical Clinic, Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Lam Pin Min said he was heartened by the number of GPs participating.
“GPs in PCNs are able to share and optimise resources, and they can also share best practices among themselves to better manage care of chronic diseases," Dr Lam said.
"If we can reach 25 per cent of GP clinics, that would be a very good result. But the more the merrier, and we strongly encourage more GPs to participate in the PCN,” he added.
MOH piloted the PCN scheme in 2012 and announced last March that it will scale up the scheme. GPs participating in the scheme will get funding and administrative support from the ministry to implement team-based care, to better track the care outcomes and monitor patients more closely.
Doctors said being part of a network of clinics allows them scale to implement better practices that they may not have been able to do so otherwise.
"One of the very important things that PCN has introduced is to get every GP clinic to set up a chronic disease register," said Dr Chong Chin Kwang of Frontier PCN.
"This compiles the list of patients under the chronic disease management of the GP clinic. There can then be systematic tracking of these patients' important care components. In the past, the typical GP clinic would not have set up such a chronic disease register."
Frontier PCN was one of the two previously existing networks, starting as a ground-up initiative in 2013. It now consists of 39 clinics in its network.
Dr Wong Tien Hua, a GP at Mutual Healthcare Medical Clinic, noted the usefulness of having allied health practitioners do in-house consultations.
"It frees up the doctor's time to look after the patient, to look specifically at their medical issues; whereas some of these lifestyle issues like weight loss, diet, and smoking cessation, we can refer to the nurse counsellor to spend more time with them."
Patients also appreciate that these check-ups are now closer to home.
Mr Chong Chan Chai, 46, an IT manager who is diabetic, visits his family clinic located less than 200m away from his home for his check-ups.
"It's easy access and convenient. At a hospital, you make an appointment, you still have a long wait. Here, you can make an appointment for next week, it's very fast," he said.
The primary care networks are part of the MOH’s strategy to decentralise care beyond the hospitals and into communities, so that patients can receive effective care closer to home.
MOH noted that with an ageing population, the prevalence of chronic diseases and complex care needs with rise.
The ministry added that a budget of S$45 million per year has been committed to support the PCN scheme over the next five years.
Participating GPs will be able to tap in funding and support from MOH and the Agency for Integrated Care to support their team-based care for patients.