What does the Tang Dynasty have to do with Healthier SG?


上医医国, 中医医人, 下医医病 (The best doctors improve the country’s health, good ones treat the person, the ordinary ones treat the disease).”

This was how Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung ended his motion for the House to endorse the White Paper on Healthier SG on Tuesday (Oct 4): quoting the Tang Dynasty doctor Sun Si Miao, who was effectively the Hippocrates of the East and also known as Medicine God.  

Dr Sun’s quote, unpacked, shows that there are different targets and outcomes for curative care, preventive care and large-scale population care.

It’s a succinct summary for what Healthier SG’s about: encouraging lifestyle changes that prevent people from falling ill across Singapore.

Healthier SG’s 5 key features

To do that, the Government will have family doctors focus on all-round preventive care while building stronger relationships with patients.

Health plans — lifestyle adjustments, regular health screenings and vaccinations — co-developed by doctor and patients are integral here too.

Concurrently, agencies like the Health Promotion Board (HPB), People’s Association (PA) and Sport SG will organise public health activities to create a supportive environment.  

“This whole area is what we call ‘social prescriptions’, and doctors are saying social prescriptions are often more important than drug prescriptions,” mentioned Minister Ong.

“And once the first three components (family doctors, health plans, community partners) are ready, we embark on the fourth, which is the National Enrolment Exercise,” he continued.

During this exercise (starting in the second half of 2023 with residents aged 60 and above), residents will choose the family doctor or clinic with whom they wish to build a long-term preventive care relationship.

“From there, we begin our journey towards better health,” said the Minister, noting that Healthier SG also involves setting up key enablers — “the right IT system, manpower, financial structure” invisible in the background to make sure the strategy works.

For residents: free health screenings, Medisave flexibility and Healthpoints

For residents, these together mean much stronger, more formal support to stay healthy.

The long-term relationship with a dedicated family doctor often means that serious illnesses can be prevented (and you can change this doctor whenever you need, just to clarify).

Plus, the Government will fully fund the most important aspects of preventive care such as annual check-ups and vaccinations.   

“And health screenings will be free,” said Minister Ong.

“They will include three common chronic conditions: Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidemia. And three cancers: breast, cervical, colorectal.”

Residents will also be able to use Medisave to pay for 100 per cent of your chronic illness treatment bill, and common chronic disease drugs at private GP clinics will be subsidised even more.

Enhanced public infrastructure like sports facilities, parks and park connectors as well as community partners will support an active lifestyle.

And Healthpoints (read: FairPrice supermarket and TransitLink vouchers and more) await those who have these healthier lifestyles recorded with the Healthy365 app for Android or iOS.

“They all come together to complement each other,” said Minister Ong. “To support residents to take personal responsibility and action to embark on their healthy life journeys.”

An investment for everyone’s future

Healthier SG will cost more than S$1 billion over the next three to four years, and recurring costs afterwards.

Concurrently, annual service fees for GPs under Healthier SG will cost the Government S$400 million annually.

“Will there be a financial payback in terms of reducing healthcare spending in future?” Minister Ong asked rhetorically.

“It will be good if this comes about. But it is too early to give a realistic estimate. Because any impact in the health of people wouldn’t happen immediately.”

“The impact will perhaps be discernible eight or 10 years down the road,” he said.

“Our main and primary motivation is to reduce disease burden, reduce the suffering of people and our loved ones.”

He noted that Singapore’s healthcare expenditure is expected to be about S$22 billion a year and the Government is expecting it to almost multiply threefold in the coming ten years, to S$60 billion in 2030.

“If this national medical bill doubles instead of triples in ten years – we would have saved much more than what we are planning to spend on preventive care,” he said.

A healthier tomorrow

So, Singapore’s in for major healthcare reform with Healthier SG. And of course, one does not simply enter an endeavour this large without planning.

Since announcing Healthier SG at the Committee of Supply debate in March this year, the Government has engaged over 6,000 members of the public, including 1,000 healthcare professionals through surveys, focus groups and interviews.

“We presented a concept of what we planned to do,” recounted Minister Ong. “And then we asked them, ‘Looking at this — what’s missing? What’s your concern? What are the details that matter? How to make it work? What are the potential pitfalls?’”

“It is an important process to make sure that we design the system right,” he continued.

“And we got many useful inputs, which we have tried our best to incorporate in this White Paper.”      

That, Petir.sg notes, is consistent with the pragmatic and far-sighted attributes of the Party.

“If all of us come together to make Healthier SG work, we will progress towards the Holy Grail of health care, healthy longevity,” said Minister Ong.

“That is the best: when the number of years we can live healthily approximates the number of years we can live biologically.”

So, go ahead to keep healthy and help prevent yourself from being ill. Give some thought to which doctor you’ll choose for your healthcare needs. Check out community sports at the HPB or the PA. Download Healthy365.

Leading a healthier lifestyle is, after all, better than spending time in a hospital.

Cover photo credit: Flickr