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Scheme to encourage patients to see GP first launched

A new pilot scheme has been launched to encourage patients with mild or moderate symptoms to visit a general practitioner first instead of heading straight to the Accident and Emergency Department at Changi General Hospital.

SINGAPORE: A new pilot scheme has been launched to encourage patients with mild or moderate symptoms to visit a general practitioner (GP) first instead of heading straight to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department at Changi General Hospital (CGH).

A S$50 subsidy will be given to patients who opt to see a GP first.

Called GPFirst and launched by the Eastern Health Alliance and CGH, it aims to reduce the crowd at the hospital's A&E department.

So far, more than 132 GPs in eastern Singapore have joined the scheme.

CGH’s A&E department sees about 500 patients a day. But about half of them could have been treated by a GP instead.

One reason they choose to go directly to the hospital could be costs.

The average cost for a patient who sees a GP is about S$50. If their condition is serious enough to have to be transferred to the A&E department, they have to pay another S$100. This means their total expenses come up to S$150.

This does not include specialised investigations and non-standardised medication if required.

Many patients said they would have been able to pay much less if they had gone directly to an A&E department.

To incentivise patients, the new scheme will offer a S$50 subsidy to those who visit the GP first and are subsequently referred to A&E.

TK Udairam, group CEO at Eastern Health Alliance, said: "If it (the scheme) reduces the volume of non-emergency patients that are coming into the A&E department, it helps us because the doctors can then be redeployed to look after the more urgent, Priority 2 (P2) cases that we have in the hospital. P2 cases sometimes wait anything from about half an hour, maybe even more sometimes."

Dr Lye Tong Fong, family physician at Central 24-hour Clinic at Bedok, said many patients are unaware of the conditions that GPs can treat.

He elaborated: "Most common would be upper respiratory tract infections which is essentially the colds and flus. The gastroenteritis condition like vomitting and diarrhoea, especially for those without dehydration, (it) is no problem. In fact, in some GP clinics if you need rehydration, we have infusion services available in some of these clinics."

Dr Lye added: "This also includes stable head injuries, meaning people who have knocked their head but are still conscious. If they are still orientated and they know what's going on around, then a GP treating most of these conditions are okay.

“Simple cuts and lacerations which are less than 5cm, we can do some surgery in the clinics. But then again, there are some doctors who don't do it so they may end up in A&E departments.

“Even allergic reactions, hives all these we can treat. They look very serious but essentially if you can breathe well and there's no issue with other reactions aside from these rashes appearing, most of the doctors can treat them with some simple injections."

CGH has set up a 24-hour A&E consultant hotline for GPs who may have queries on how to manage acute cases.

This will be manned by an A&E specialist from CGH.

A GPFirst website has also been launched to help patients know where to go depending on the severity of their condition. 

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