"EXCUSE me, madam, may I have just two minutes of your time?"
Before the other party can say anything, Madam Pauline Tan, 62, quickly adds that she is not trying to sell anything over the phone.
"I am calling from the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to talk about your health. Have you gone for your post-screening follow-up?" she asks. Usually the answer is "no", but gentle persuasion by HPB telecare health ambassadors like Madam Tan has worked.
As of September this year, 800 residents have been contacted.
About 70 per cent of the people diagnosed with abnormal results at seven islandwide screening centres have gone for follow-up checks. This was up from only 15 per cent of those who needed follow-up checks in 2012, when the ambassadors were introduced.
The HPB plans to expand the programme over the next few years.
It will look for more people to join the telecare team, which has 28 volunteers between 43 and 69 years old.
Madam Tan, a retired administrator who has been a telecare ambassador since May, said the most common excuse among seniors for not going to the doctor is that their condition is "not serious".
"They do not know that high blood pressure, though mild for instance, can lead to more serious conditions," she said.
Others say they have no time or money or that they did not know they could take their screening results to a polyclinic or doctor for a follow-up. For three hours every Tuesday, Madam Tan calls 20 residents, with her "health bible" by her side.
This is filled with notes on healthy living, jotted down during a two-day training course with HPB nurses.
"I have learnt to take the soft approach, not to scare them about the health risks but rather to explain the benefits of a healthy lifestyle," she said. Another telecare ambassador, Madam Hanifa Hussein Papar, 50, said it is all about encouragement.
"I will tell them that they have already taken a step in the right direction by going for (the) screening, so why not take the next step by going for a follow-up," she said.
Madam Hanifa said she benefits too. "You help people get healthier and, at the same time, learn more ways to stay healthy yourself," said the retiree. The job is not always easy.
Some hang up on them with an abrupt "not free", while others relent only after three calls.
But such responses do not get them down, and the appreciation they get keeps them going.
"They will ask for my name and say 'thank you so much for calling'. It really serves as a huge motivation," said Madam Hanifa.
This article was first published on December 25, 2014.
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