Singapore is a remarkable country in many ways. Its growth story is well told at this stage, and has provided a template to small, underdeveloped countries to become world leaders. Thankfully, this is as true for the country’s health system as it is for its economy, its education system and its system of government.
Singapore’s National Health Group (NHG) is the organization which is responsible for ensuring the health of Singapore’s 5.6 million people. And on the basis of its goal to ‘add years of healthy life,’ it isn’t doing such a bad job: In 2017, Singapore has the world’s 2nd best ranked health system and the country’s citizens had an average life expectancy of just over 83 years.
Recognized at home and abroad
The NHG is a publicly funded group of healthcare institutions which was founded in the year 2000. Being a relatively new organization, it reflects the needs of a modern country like that of Singapore and has none of the archaic processes which tend to burden national heathcare systems in other developed countries.
The NHG provides healthcare through an integrated network of nine primary healthcare polyclinics, acute care and tertiary hospitals, national specialty centres and business divisions. All of its branches are patient-centric, and work according to the NHG”s core values of collegiality, compassion, respect, integrity, social responsibility and professionalism.
In addition, the NHG maintains standards through a seven-point set of rules, which all NHG employees receive upon beginning with the group:
- Healthcare originates from what patients need and value
- We care and protect patients and ourselves
- We work with guidelines and standard processes
- We solve the problem or take responsibility for handing over to the next step
- We give ideas, learn, develop, improve continuously and share results
- As a system with partners, it is the system’s results that count
- We feedback to the step before
In 2015, the NHG began comprehensive surveys into the healthcare requirements of the citizens of Singapore. The results of these studies are expected towards the end of 2017 or the first semester of 2018. Together with data retrieved from patient clinics and other institutions under the NHG wing, they provide fresh data which can be used to improve services at the NHG.
The first of these studies was a 3-year Population Health Study for the Central Region of Singapore. In total, it covered over 7,200 individuals at the NHG’s Health Services and Outcomes Report (HSOR) department and when delivered, its outcomes will help the NHG to design effective programmes to improve the health of the community.
The second study concerns mental health – an area all too commonly under-represented in public health expenditure, but not in Singapore. The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) Nanyang Technical University (NTU) and Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health have all been tracking and trending key mental health disorders including schizophrenia.
The results obtained by this second study will help researchers to identify gaps in treatment and develop interventions to address them. It’s a credit to Singapore’s forward-looking approach to healthcare, that even the less ‘visible’ disorders that affect its population receive no less attention when it comes to treatment and research.
‘Not being ill isn’t the same as being healthy’
In its annual report, the NHG states, in a simple but insightful way, that ‘not being ill isn’t the same as being healthy.’ It’s a nice take away which many of us could do well to remember, encouraging Singapore’s citizens to take an active approach to their health, rather than a passive one. As such, the NHG runs a number of initiatives which encourage healthier living among the country’s citizens under the ‘stay healthy, live well’ banner. A primary example of this can be seen in the 2016 launch of Stars for Health (S.H.I.N.E.) which encourages its staff to take care of their personal health.
In addition to a steps challenge, which encouraged staff to measure the number of daily footsteps (and by extension, their daily exercise routines), it also culminated in a healthy-eating cookbook which was distributed throughout the NHG and its branches, with an emphasis being placed on healthier, affordable meals.
Another area where the NHG has shifted its focus is towards childhood obesity levels. As elsewhere in the world, Singapore’s childhood obesity levels are on the rise. To counter this, it has designed the ‘shaping a healthy future’ programme, which involved children throughout the education system and encouraged them to develop programs to think about, and design ways to counter obesity.
Elsewhere, the NHG has developed a voluntary care system, where its employees tap into community ventures that look after the old and impaired. The “Neighbours” initiative has already been implemented in Singapore’s Central Region, and has provided support to elderly citizens on an ongoing basis. The plan is to roll it out nationwide as soon as possible.
Continuous evolution of healthcare
What comes across quite clearly in everything that the NHG does is the refusal to stay stagnant – whether that’s encouraging people to become more active in their daily lives, getting out and meeting the community or from a more organizational viewpoint. Evolution is evidently one of the keys to the ongoing success of the NHG.
In 2015, it redesigned its strategic work streams into five core areas: care redesign, staff point of view, patient point of view, organization development & design, and training for the future. The aim of this change, in short, was to meet future challenges and the NHG has already indicated that the changes have recorded significant successes.
Perhaps the final word is best left with the CEO of the NHG, who says in his annual address: “To ensure our future readiness, NHG will continue to engage, educate and empower our staff, our patients and their families, and the community to take more ownership of their health and live well.”
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