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    Mar 21, 2014

    Tech can fill health-care hole and trim costs

    ASIAN countries need to re-look the role of technology and health-care workers to guard against rising health-care costs while meeting the needs of an ageing population, urged Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

    Speaking to about 180 government officers and health-care professionals at the Healthcare in Asia 2014 conference, Mr Gan said: "These societies will need to adopt health-care technologies in a big way, and fundamentally re-think the role of technology and human contact in the delivery of health care and social care."

    He cited the example of a self-dialysis programme in Sweden, where 60 per cent of kidney failure patients were allowed to manage their illness on their own.

    Under the programme, patients "operate the dialysis machine, interpret lab values and document their own care on a report form themselves", which resulted in "increased compliance, lower costs and better outcomes", he said.

    Associate Professor Wong Teck Yee, assistant dean of family medicine at Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, said that technology can transform patient care, especially for elderly patients or those living with chronic conditions.

    "For elderly patients in the community, wearable technology could be used to monitor vital signs like blood pressure," said Prof Wong. "This information could then be relayed to their health-care providers to act on."

    But on the feasibility of care systems such as Sweden's self-dialysis programme being successful here, Prof Wong said it would depend on three factors: cost to the patient, acceptance by patients and their families, and the level of follow-up support available to patients.

    Dr Phua Kai Hong, associate professor (health policy and management) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said that the direction in which health care should progress is towards home-based community care.

    "And how to do that is with the right kind of technology, support and manpower," said Prof Phua. However, he noted that the right type of incentives and financial support are needed to realise these shifts.

    In his speech yesterday, the first day of the 11/2-day conference, Mr Gan also emphasised the role of the family.

    The Government, he said, is stepping up the training of caregivers and has rolled out counselling and respite-care services. Premiums for MediShield Life will also be kept at bay with subsidies and transfers for middle- and lower-income Singaporeans.

    "But as families become smaller, more elderly being single, and life expectancy rises, children in their 60s and even 70s may still have to care for their very aged parents in their 80s and 90s," he said. "Hence, society and community may have no choice but to shoulder a heavier responsibility in caring for our elderly."

    He added: "No matter how much the Government and policymakers work to improve services for the elderly, nothing can replace the care and concern of one's own family."