When patients are unable to spend their final moments with their family members, it can be heart-wrenching. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when hospitals tightened visitor policies to minimise the risk of infection and for the safety of patients and their loved ones, many doctors like Associate Professor Low Lian Leng, Head and Consultant, Post- Acute & Continuing Care (PACC), Outram Community Hospital (OCH) went beyond their call of duty to bring care and comfort for their critically ill patients.

For example, when an elderly palliative patient requested to meet his grandchildren to fulfil his last wishes, Prof Low and his team, together with their support operations and nursing colleagues, made it happen with coordinated efforts. They put in extra care to ensure that the visit took place smoothly and safely.

Prof Low exemplifies this spirit of going the distance to help patients in his day-to-day work. Despite his busy schedule, which also involves looking into new ways and programmes to benefit different groups of patients, Prof Low always makes time to visit each of his patients to find out how they are doing.

Care continuity

In fact, being able to build a strong doctor-patient relationship with his patients was what drew Prof Low to family medicine in the first place.

“When I was a Medical Officer in a polyclinic, I realised that many patients suffering from chronic diseases require good primary care management and there was a real opportunity to prevent complications with good preventive care, education, and a trusted doctor-patient relationship,” said Prof Low.

Family doctors in community hospitals have more time to understand each patient better as the average length of stay per patient ranges from three to four weeks. During this time, the medical team is able to provide holistic care for patients, and delve deeper into their medical conditions as well as manage other psychological and social issues.

Prof Low also makes it a point to go the extra mile for each patient. Together with his team, he coaches patients’ family members on caregiving duties and helps coordinate the care services required in the community to ensure that patients get adequate support after their discharge from the hospital.

“As family physicians, our aim is to ensure that the patients safely return home to family members who can confidently take care of them, while helping them to continue receiving care from primary and community care providers. Seeing many of our patients recuperate from serious illnesses and cope well in the community brings much meaning and motivation to me,” he added.

His passion for continued community care extends through his role as Director for the Population Health and Integrated Care Office (PHICO) in Singapore General Hospital (SGH). The office is responsible for overseeing integrated and community care programmes across the SGH Campus. Prof Low’s team built the ESTHER Network Singapore to promote person-centred care, and have trained competent coaches from 48 health and social institutions to date.

COVID-19 and beyond

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Prof Low and the OCH team had to help ramp up capacity for the OCH wards earlier than scheduled in a collaborative effort with SGH to allow more patients to receive continued care.

Thanks to the extra hours put in by the team, OCH has already opened its seventh ward within nine months since starting operations in November 2019.

Within a short time frame, the team has also developed protocols with SGH for the safe transfer of patients, as well as strict infection control standards to prevent any risk of transmission.

With his practice centred on the doctor-patient relationship, Prof Low continues to enhance countless patients’ recovery journeys in both personal and meaningful ways.