Share this Article
SC Emmanuel, HP Phua, PY Cheong
Correspondence: Dr S C Emmanuel, Shanta_EMMANUEL@nhgp.com.sg
Introduction The 2001 survey on primary medical care was undertaken to compare updated primary healthcare practices such as workload and working hours in the public and private sectors; determine private and public sector market shares in primary medical care provision; and gather the biographical profile and morbidity profile of patients seeking primary medical care from both sectors in Singapore. This is the third survey in its series, the earlier two having been carried out in 1988 and 1993, respectively.
Methods The survey questionnaire was sent out to all the 1480 family doctors in private primary health outpatient practice, the 89 community-based paediatricians in the private sector who were registered with the Singapore Medical Council and also to all 152 family doctors working in the public sector primary medical care clinics. The latter comprised the polyclinics under the two health clusters in Singapore, namely the Singapore Health Services and National Healthcare Group, and to a very much smaller extent, the School Health Service's (SHS) outpatient clinics. The survey was conducted on 21 August 2001, and repeated on 25 September 2001 to enable those who had not responded to the original survey date to participate. Subjects consisted of all outpatients who sought treatment at the private family practice clinics (including the clinics of the community-based paediatricians), and the public sector primary medical care clinics, on the survey day.
Results The response rate from the family doctors in private practice was 36 percent. Owing to the structured administrative organisation of the polyclinics and SHS outpatient clinics, all returns were completed and submitted to the respective headquarters. Response from the community-based paediatricians was poor, so their findings were omitted in the survey analysis. The survey showed that the average daily patient-load of a family doctor in private practice was 33 patients per day, which was lower than the 40 patients a day recorded in 1993. The average working hours of each of these private practitioners was 7.6 hours per day. Family doctors in public sector primary medical care clinics were responsible for 16.6 percent of the patient-load for primary medical care in Singapore while the remaining 83.4 percent was provided by family doctors in private practice. Singaporeans made approximately 4.4 visits to a family doctor in 2001, which was lower than the 5.0 visits ascertained in 1993. Chronic medical conditions seen by family doctors as a whole, increased from 29.2 percent in 1993 to 34.3 percent in 2001. Upper respiratory tract infections and hypertension were the two leading disease conditions seen at both private and public sector primary medical care clinics in 2001. The load of hypertension managed at primary medical care clinics had notably increased.
Conclusion The public sector share of outpatient load at 17 percent in 2001 is well within the 25 percent level set in the Government's 1993 White Paper on Affordable Healthcare. The private sector remains the main provider of primary medical care in Singapore, serving 83 percent of the population. The average workload for each family doctor in private practice had dropped from 40 to 33 patients a day between 1993 and 2001. There had been a notable growth in family doctors working in the private sector over this period. Both sectors saw an increase in the chronic disease load that they managed.
Keywords: family doctors, primary medical care, private primary medical practice, public primary medical practice
Singapore Med J 2004; 45(5): 199-213