$50 off CGH emergency bill if you see GP first

Faced with a busy emergency department that sees more than 400 patients a day, Changi General Hospital (CGH) has come up with a novel way to reduce the crowd.

It is offering a 50 per cent discount to patients who see a general practitioner (GP) first. With the offer, it hopes to divert as many as 100 patients a day.

A third to half of the patients who show up at the emergency department can be treated easily by a GP, said Mr T.K. Udairam, head of Eastern Health Alliance, to which CGH belongs.

He said the offer of a $50 discount off its $100 emergency attendance-fee bill is to remove "a perceived disincentive": Some patients do not go to the GP first because they think that they would end up paying both the GP and the hospital, thus paying more.

But that is not true all the time. As most of the patients do not need hospital care, seeing a GP will likely save them money, said Mr Udairam. Patients can also save themselves a trip to the hospital and a long wait by going to a GP first, he said.

Most GPs charge $30 to $50 in the day, which is when most emergency-department patients show up.

"This will give medical staff more time to spend with patients who are more critically ill," said Mr Udairam at the launch of the GPFirst scheme yesterday.

Before this scheme, about 20 patients were diverted each day by the hospital to a clinic because of the crowd.

So far, 132 out of more than 200 GP clinics in eastern Singapore, in places like Tampines and Pasir Ris, have joined the scheme.

Those who are referred to CGH by a participating GP will be given priority as they have been assessed by a doctor to require emergency-department care, said the hospital's chief executive officer, Dr Lee Chien Earn.

Dr Muhammad Iqmal Abdullah, whose clinic in Bedok Central sees a fair number of factory workers, said companies often send workers straight to CGH following an industrial accident. But clinics are capable of taking care of many injuries, he said.

"When it comes to small cuts, a GP can deal with it easily. We don't even need to suture anymore, we just use glue."

CGH's offer of a discount is also to pre-empt a flood of patients during the Chinese New Year holidays, which usually see a rise in patient visits.

Clinics like Dr Muhammad's are open during the festive period. He recalled having patients turn up at his clinic last year after a six-hour wait at CGH.

Many were seeking help for non-stop vomiting, allergic reaction to something they ate, and other ailments that can be treated easily by a GP, he said.

For serious conditions such as a suspected heart attack or stroke, he would give some medicine immediately and call for an ambulance. "There will be no delay to their initial treatment," he said.

However, Dr Lee stressed that if it is a suspected heart attack or stroke, or other critical illnesses, patients should head straight for the hospital.

A list of GPs on the scheme, as well as conditions for which it is better to consult a GP first - such as nausea, abdominal pain, sprains and fever - can be found at www.gpfirst.sg

GPs have also been given a 24-hour hotline number to call, so that they can speak to an emergency specialist if they are unsure about a patient's condition.

This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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