SATA CommHealth provides care for ‘underserved’ ageing Singaporeans
Over $500,000 from the government’s Health Endowment Fund fuels SATA CommHealth’s Doctor-On-Wheels.
When mobility issues confine Singapore’s oldest citizens to their homes, they may likely be ineligible for the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) homecare services. In facing this reality, SATA CommHealth’s Doctor-On-Wheels (DOW) is positioning itself to bridge the gap.
A non-profit organisation, SATA CommHealth provides the utmost care for Singapore’s geriatric population, a segment that increased to 18.4% in 2022 from 11.1% in 2021.
“This group of people find it very challenging to travel to a polyclinic or healthcare facility,” Dr. Ooi Seong Thean, a resident physician at SATA CommHealth, told Healthcare Asia.
Most homebound elderly do not have an active income so when they go to general practitioner clinics, services are costly. With DOW, immobile elderly can access patient services at zero out-of-pocket expenses. These include consultations, necessary blood tests, imaging investigations, and medications.
SATA CommHealth allocates funds it receives from the government’s Health Endowment Fund (HEF) to support beneficiaries of the programme.
Given an allocation of at least $500,000 from the HEF, SATA CommHealth serves the elderly and less privileged communities, identifying them via their Pioneer Generation, Merdeka Generation, Public Assistance, and CHAS Blue/Orange/Green cards.
The service also has comprehensive care for individuals with chronic health conditions. For this, the patients are of all ages dealing with ailments like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and other long-term health issues.
Dr. Ooi said they also have no problems with hesitancy as the elderly they save are more willing to invest time in healthcare-related matters.
“They are better compliant with their medication nowadays, so we don’t see any issues or any resistance to doing our recruitment lately,” said Ooi.
SATA CommHealth also manages its allocation from the HEF to ensure that eligible individuals in the community receive adequate support.
“By not needing the patient’s going to the healthcare facilities, we also have to save our patient’s money in that sense,” said Dr. Ooi.
In comparison to the previous years, 2023 has seen one of the highest numbers of DOW beneficiaries, amounting to more than a 48% increase within the same period in 2022.
One of the factors why DOW is a much-preferred treatment by patients is because of its multilingual staff members who cater to all patients who do not speak English, eliminating the language barrier in delivering services.
“Typically the team is formed by a doctor or nurse and a care ambassador. Most of the time we are multilingual, we have no issue understanding English, Mandarin, and Bahasa,” said Dr. Ooi.
They also have a record of certain parts of Singapore that speak a certain dialogue, for example, Cantonese. Almost 15% of the Singapore population speaks Cantonese.
Some examples of common conditions encountered by SATA CommHealth are colds, allergies, body aches and muscle pains, and skin conditions.
“If the conditions are more severe than they seem, our doctors on site can direct our clients to appropriate places for review, be it the emergency department or specialist outpatient clinics,” said Dr. Ooi.
In addition, Dr. Ooi said they facilitate internal referrals to patients, making sure there is access to services such as diagnostic imaging, rehabilitation services, and home care services.
SATA CommHealth also invested in information technology infrastructure that includes faster computers and mobile Wi-Fi access, which allow its healthcare professionals to access and manage patient records more efficiently.
The charity also upgraded its equipment, acquiring lighter and more efficient printers for documents, labels, and prescription stickers. The speed and accuracy of issuing prescriptions have improved.
The DOW van is a donation from a charity organisation, so they can reach patients quickly and ferry them to and from nearby medical centres for imaging and sophisticated tests requiring special instrumentation such as audiometry and spirometry.
Advanced medical equipment was also procured such as ECG machines and DRP (diabetic retinopathy photography) examination tools. These technologies allow healthcare providers to perform essential investigations on-site, reducing the need for patients to visit medical centres.
More Singapore sites
Even with its success, SATA CommHealth wants to expand its services further to cover a wider area of Singapore. As of August 2023, they are already serving 41 sites across the city-state, said Dr. Ooi.
“The goal here is to extend our services to those who need them most and may have limited alternatives for healthcare. At the moment, areas dense with rental blocks are our first choice to include,” said Dr. Ooi.
Another expansion is servicing more on-site inoculations of flu and pneumococcal vaccines. These jabs can be done once a person reaches 65 years old but some people are still not covered by it.
“Previously, we were not allowed to bring this vaccine to the community. If you need to give them the vaccine, you have to bring them back to our medical centres,” said Dr. Ooi.