SingHealth, which runs six to eight screenings a year, says one in four people who were screened between July 2015 and July 2016 and had abnormal results, had not returned for a doctor's follow-up after a year.
Even after red flags show up in a health screening, it can take a lot to get people to see a doctor for a proper check-up.
Medical groups which run health screenings say a significant proportion of people who need to follow up on their screening do not do so.
SingHealth, which runs six to eight screenings a year, says one in four people who were screened between July 2015 and the same month last year had not returned for a doctor’s follow-up after a year.
Healthcare professionals say many people do not see their results as being serious enough to warrant a doctor’s visit, or do not want any medication. Some say they are too busy.
Dr Emily Ho, director (clinical) of the SingHealth Regional Health System, said: “Some prefer to control their conditions on their own, via diet and exercise.”
The Health Ministry this month said Singaporeans aged 40 and above will be able to get screened for five diseases – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes as well as cervical and colorectal cancer – at just $5 from September.
The fee includes screening and the first follow-up consultation with a doctor, and is even cheaper for those on the Community Health Assist Scheme or who are part of the pioneer generation.
Diabetes affects an estimated 400,000 people in Singapore, while cervical and colorectal cancer are among the top cancers here.
Meanwhile, high blood pressure and cholesterol can increase a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
Making screening affordable is part of the Government’s move to pick up such ailments early. By including a first consultation in the $5 fee, it hopes to reduce the drop-off rates of those who test positive but do not follow up on the results.
Currently, the key to getting people to come back for a follow-up seems to be persistence.
Groups such as SingHealth, the Diabetic Society of Singapore (DSS) and the Singapore Cancer Society have nurses who call people to remind them to make follow-up appointments.
They call them at regular intervals – usually every three to six months – and explain to them the potential risks if they delay making such appointments.
The National Healthcare Group (NHG), on its part, has post-screening talks to help people interpret their results the day they get them. “We also provide vouchers for subsidised consultations at participating general practitioner clinics nearby,” an NHG spokesman said.
DSS vice-president Kalpana Bhaskaran stressed the importance of screenings and follow-ups, saying: “Most of the lifestyle diseases are silent diseases and do not have any symptoms during the initial stages, so people are not aware.”
She also said problems can snowball without regular screenings and follow-ups – for example, diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure and amputation of the limbs. “Some are scared to go in case the doctor detects something abnormal, and they have to spend money to treat it,” Dr Kalpana said.
Not dealing with such ailments early leads to more money being spent when the conditions worsen.
One person who prefers to be vigilant is Mr Bernard Loh, 79, who goes for polyclinic check-ups every few months to ensure his high blood pressure and high cholesterol are under control.
The retired marine engineer said: “I would rather know about this kind of thing early.”