SINGAPORE: About 900 general practitioner (GP) clinics will be reactivated as Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) starting Tuesday (Feb 18), to care for patients with respiratory symptoms in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday that it expects the number of confirmed cases in Singapore to increase, partly due to the enhanced disease surveillance.
“We are quite concerned that many of the local confirmed cases have remained in the community and some have gone back to work even when they were ill and even after they have seen a doctor. This is not helpful in our efforts to reduce the risk of community transmission,” Health Minister Gan Kim Yong had said on Friday.
What makes these clinics different and where can you find them? Here’s what you need to know:
WHAT ARE PHPCS
The PHPCs are “an important line of defence” during public health outbreaks, Mr Gan had said.
The activation of PHPCs and polyclinics would allow the virus to be detected in patients earlier and reduce the risk of further transmission, according to the Health Ministry.
The PHPCs, which provide subsidised treatment and medication during public health outbreaks, were previously activated to deal with haze and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.
The clinics are familiar with the appropriate care protocols according to the assessed risk and diagnosis of each patient, and will be supplied with the necessary personal protective equipment, said the ministry.
From Tuesday, about 900 clinics will be “progressively activated” to care for patients with respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat and runny nose.
These clinics will also help refer patients to a hospital if they are suspected to have pneumonia.
WHERE ARE THE CLINICS?
The clinics can be identified by a PHPC decal, and members of the public can find an updated list of PHPCs at https://www.flugowhere.gov.sg from Tuesday.
GPs undergo a “process of enrolment” when they apply to join the PHPC scheme, said MOH’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak on Friday. This includes teaching them the importance of infection control and training them to use personal protective equipment.
"So, there is a little bit more work done in order to make sure they are better prepared to deal with patients that have infectious diseases," added Associate Professor Mak.
"It is not that ordinary GPs cannot manage such conditions, but these GPs (PHPCs) have been given additional training, additional preparation that they've done such that in times like this, we have a ready group of doctors and their clinics who are able to stand up and then further support as we then manage an outbreak in a crisis."
WHO SHOULD GO TO PHPCS
Patients with respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat and runny nose should visit PHPCs. These clinics will provide special subsidies for those diagnosed with respiratory symptoms, to encourage those who are ill to seek treatment, said MOH.
Patients with such symptoms can also go to polyclinics, where the subsidies will also apply.
Singapore citizens and permanent residents diagnosed with respiratory illnesses at the PHPCs and polyclinics will pay a flat subsidised rate of S$10 for their consultation and treatment. Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation seniors will pay S$5.
The ministry also advised patients to return to the same doctor to seek further treatment if their symptoms persist or deteriorate.
"Patients must recognise the importance of staying home when unwell," it said in a media release on Friday.
"Mixing in large crowds, or continuing to go to work or school when ill, even with mild symptoms, will put others at risk."
WHY THE NEED FOR 5-DAYS MC
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, healthcare professionals have also been advised to provide medical certificates (MCs) of five days for patients with respiratory symptoms.
Patients will be referred for further medical assessment and tests if they do not recover within five days, said the ministry.
Most patients with respiratory symptoms are not infected with COVID-19, noted the health ministry, but extra precautions must be taken.
MOH stressed that anyone with respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat and runny nose should seek medical treatment early and stay home throughout their illness.
"We urge all individuals and employers to cooperate and follow strictly the five-day MC regime that has been put in place."
Addressing the five-day period, Assoc Prof Mak explained on Friday that the majority of patients with respiratory problems will recover within three to four days.
"Most people with minor conditions would have recovered by then, and it (five days) allows us to look and determine whether there are other patients who are still not getting better, who might be getting worse, and we then want them to come back to the GP ... to reassess - these are the patients that might be referred to the hospital for further testing,” he added.