Thumbs-up for public-private healthcare blending of S'pore
Teh Shi Ning
Mon, Sep 07, 2009
The Business Times

SINGAPORE'S healthcare system is exemplary in its blending of public and private provision of health care, but there can be greater integration between hospitals and the general practitioners' (GP) sector, said executives from Accenture's new Health and Public Services operating group.

The US$3 billion business group, which Accenture formally launched on Sept 1, serves national health services and public health departments in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Spain, the Netherlands, the UK, the United States and Singapore.

In an interview, Stephen Rohleder, the new group's chief executive and formerly Accenture's chief operating officer, outlined forces driving 'dramatic change' in the global healthcare business over the next three to five years.

These include rising cost pressures, demand for higher quality of care, a greater focus on access to health care and the public sector's increasingly prominent role in the definition of policy and the funding of health care, he said.

As the US healthcare reforms debate rages on, Mr Rohleder said that outside of the US, most countries run healthcare systems which are a blend of public and private offerings.

William Higbie, Accenture's health and life sciences managing partner for Asia-Pacific, added: 'Singapore is a great example of a private-public mix, and of the ability to shift some of the responsibility for health care onto the patients and their families through enforced saving schemes such as Medisave, and MediShield. I don't think that should be understated because the big issue in health care, especially with an ageing population, is sustainability.'

Demographic change is the key challenge facing Singapore's health system, Mr Higbie said. 'The ageing population and the increased incidence of chronic illness and lifestyle diseases will need to be managed effectively.'

He thinks that with the demographic challenge, greater integration of the healthcare system is needed. 'Singapore has a very advanced acute and tertiary health sector, and the GP sector does a good job providing its services,' he said.

'But overall integration, from the point of GP referral to when patients are discharged from hospitals, and the after-care provided by GPs, this will be increasingly important.'

Key trends in the global health sector now are reflective of systems responding to change, Mr Rohleder said. For instance, the huge investments being made in information technology (IT) are crucial to connecting systems and integrating health management processes.

Mr Rohleder thinks Singapore's public health system has been more proactive than reactive in its response to such changes, and has used technology effectively so far.

According to an IDC Government Insights study, Singapore has planned to spend around US$200 million on IT in the healthcare sector.

However, Mr Rohleder cautioned that while technology is essential, health organisations need to marry it with organisational change to effect any real progress.

'If we don't focus on standardisation of processes, we'd have passed a lot of bits and bytes around the world with no impact on quality of care, or the costs of providing that care,' he said.

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