Robust discussions ensued at the SingHealth Community Forum 2022 on ways to foster stronger collaborations among care providers to strengthen families and their health.

From childhood, adulthood to old age, individuals at varying life stages have different needs to survive and thrive. Consequently, how can care providers help to ensure the well-being and health of every family member?
This is the question that SingHealth and its community partners sought to answer at the SingHealth Community Forum 2022 held in November at Our Tampines Hub. Lively discussions ensued on how various organisations can collaborate even more closely and leverage each other’s strengths for better population health outcomes. 
The vibrant exchange came tightly on the heels of the government’s announcement of Healthier SG, a national strategy that shifts the emphasis from reactively caring for those who are sick, to proactively preventing individuals from falling ill. SingHealth is the appointed population manager of the Eastern region, responsible for coordinating the various health promoting programmes and initiatives.

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Why it takes a village to care for families

Making family the focal point lies on the premise that health is more than healthcare. The ability of an individual to thrive is directly related to the resilience of the family unit, which includes physical, mental and social aspects.
For instance, a low-income family may be hard pressed to fork out the resources and time to prioritise their health; a young mother with depression may not have the capacity to exclusively breastfeed her newborn.
This is where partners from all sectors can make a difference – bringing care and resources preemptively to those who need them, and making sure the effort is efficient, sustainable and adds value.
“The key is to synergise and leverage each other’s resources and understanding who’s better in which area so we know who to take the lead,” said Professor Lee Chien Earn, Deputy Group CEO (Regional Health System), SingHealth at the event. 
“For instance, if we did not know of the existence of KidSTART, which supports young children from low-income families, we might have started a similar set-up ourselves and taken away each other’s talents and efforts,” he added. 
Mdm Rahayu Buang, Director of Child Development at the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) and CEO of KidSTART Singapore agreed, though she conceded that putting together all the pieces is a complex exercise. 
“While it isn’t an easy task for us, ultimately, families have to find it easy to access our programme services,” she added. 

Early efforts to build ecosystem

The advantages of joining hands with like-minded organisations have been clear with programmes such as Health Up! an inter-agency effort between SingHealth, People’s Association, Sport Singapore and the Health Promotion Board. 
Since the launch of the free six-week holistic health and wellness programme last November, over 600 Tampines residents aged 40 years and above have benefitted from access to health screenings, workshops and small group coaching. 
Among other initiatives, SingHealth has also been working with Families for Life to co-lead Family Nexus, which provides self-help resources for families, consultations for health and social services, and activities for children, couples and families. 
That’s not all. Moving forward, polyclinics will start to play a bigger role in anticipatory guidance, said Dr David Ng, CEO of SingHealth Polyclinics at the forum. 
Dr Ng shared pilot results from the Integrated Maternal and Child Wellness Hub (IMCWH), which provides more detailed assessment and management of infant and maternal health. Key components include early identification of children at risk of developmental delays and autism spectrum disorders and providing postnatal support in areas such as lactation and emotional wellness.
In its two-year run at Punggol, 8% of 8,624 children screened were found to have potential developmental delays while 2% of 5,561 mothers were found to have potential postnatal depression, thus allowing for early targeted interventions to benefit patients. Come end-2022 and 2023, IMCWH will be extended to Tampines, Bedok and Sengkang. 
Associate Professor Low Lian Leng, Director, Southeast, SingHealth Office of Regional Health (SORH), shared SingHealth’s ongoing efforts to onboard private GPs onto Healthier SG for more coordinated care. 
SORH is seeking inputs from GPs on how SingHealth can partner them to provide holistic care management for patients. This includes IT enablers such as a two-way referral system and a chronic disease registry.
“Beyond 2023, we will continue to support GPs training needs via the SingHealth Academy and other engagement opportunities,” he added. 

A continual work in progress

One of the bigger challenges behind the weaving of this tightknit support around Singapore residents is getting everyone to appreciate the significance of Healthier SG and the family approach to keeping well. 
“It is a paradigm shift. At the end of the day, it takes all of us as community partners to help everyone understand what Healthier SG is all about,” said Dr Ng. 
However, speakers are optimistic about the future. “The important thing is to journey with our residents,” said Prof Lee. 
He added, “Though it is a bold endeavour, Healthier SG isn’t unique to us. But if anyone can succeed, it is Singapore. The key is to learn, grow, and as we have learnt from COVID-19, be stronger, together.

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