The COVID-19, a disease that was first identified in Wuhan, China, has now become a pandemic. Singapore, densely populated and with a high number of travellers, is one of the first few countries to have confirmed cases of the COVID-19.
Many people may think that during such time, the medical industry would be one of the few industries to thrive. However, this may be far from the truth as Singapore’s healthcare system has been put to the test since the outbreak. In this article, we shall look at how the COVID-19 has caused uphill challenges for Singapore’s healthcare system and the healthcare industry.
- Resources are stretched
To minimise the risk of spreading the virus to different clinic locations, doctors can now only work at a maximum of three clinic locations based on the guideline issued by the Ministry of Health (“MOH”). There are now fewer locums to cover shifts, and general practitioner (“GP”) clinics are facing a severe shortage of manpower.
Some private doctors are already putting in longer working hours, while some are considering to reduce working hours at GP clinics. Experts are speculating that this outbreak is likely to stay at least until the end of this year. This would adversely impact the private healthcare system. In time to come, doctors who have been working for long hours will no longer be able to cope physically, thus forcing clinics to close early. This will not only reduce income for GP clinics, it will also put more strain on polyclinics and hospitals as patients now have no choice but to visit hospitals and polyclinics.
- Medical tourism is curtailed severely
Singapore is known for its top-notch healthcare system. As such, many patients from Southeast Asian countries are inclined to fly to Singapore to seek medical treatments at private hospitals, ranging from health screenings to surgical procedures. However, due to border restrictions implemented by Singapore and various countries within the ASEAN region, outpatients from these countries will no longer be allowed to leave their home country or enter Singapore for their regular, follow-up treatments. The MOH also issued a circular on 19 March 2020 to inform hospitals and private specialist clinics not to accept any new foreign patients who do not reside in Singapore.
- Outpatient follow-up appointments are being deferred
Public hospitals, polyclinics, and specialists are also seeing a sharp decline in local outpatient follow-up appointments, as many are rescheduling their appointments in fear of catching the coronavirus.
- Pharmacy inventory management is affected
During this period, the items that are flying off the shelves include surgical masks, sanitisers, thermometers, disinfectants and immune-boosting supplements. As this disease continues to spread widely across many countries, there is currently a worldwide shortage of these items. As such, pharmacies are faced with the problem of not being able to restock fast enough to meet increasing demand.
As seen from the above, the healthcare sector is not as rosy as what many people would have thought.
However, it is not all doom and gloom in Singapore’s healthcare sector. Let us look at some of the positive impact the pandemic has sparked.
- Use of technological innovations
This outbreak has compelled hospitals to step up on the use of technology. Alexandra Hospital and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital are good examples. They take this opportunity to speed up healthcare transformation through automation.
Alexandra Hospital has launched a robot named as “BeamPro”. BeamPro allows doctors to communicate with and remotely inspect patients who are isolated, and it is able to deliver medications and food to these patients. This robot will also reduce the demand for Personal Protective Equipment which is in short supply.
KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, on the other hand, has launched a new online service for parents and caregivers to seek advice for common paediatric conditions (for children aged 17 year and below), such as fever, cough, diarrhoea, vomiting and common injuries.
Similarly, HealthServe, a non-profit organisation, also started a teleconsultation service for its regular patients due to the decline in the number of volunteers after the MOH implemented site restrictions for healthcare workers.
Besides, medical apps also allow doctors to provide virtual consultations, and issue specialist referrals and electronic medical certificates.
- Funding support from the Government
The Government has introduced a total support package that amounted to $59.9 billion to help employees, employers and business owners to tide over this period. The Government also believes that companies should continue to build capabilities in order to emerge stronger as the economy recovers. As such, enhancements have been made to some of the existing grants, such as the Enterprise Development Grant, Productivity Solutions Grant, and SMEs Go Digital initiative, where the Government will support up to 80% of projects undertaken by companies in year 2020.
- Appreciation for frontline healthcare workers
On the community front, it is heartening to see people in the local community reaching out to frontline healthcare workers to offer their support in various ways:
- Use hashtag #BraveHeartSG to write notes of encouragement to doctors, nurses and healthcare workers
- Send bento boxes to hospitals and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases
- Launch of a charity fund, The Sayang Sayang Fund, to support frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable communities that are affected by COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to revolutionise the healthcare industry, as it is a huge test on the healthcare system worldwide. Countries such as Singapore, which have a robust healthcare system in place and embrace the use of technology, will be able to pull through and emerge stronger than before.